School Carpool Lanes are a Danger Zone

By Kristin Varela  on March 1, 2012

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Driving through my daughters' school carpool lane twice a day, I'm shocked to see the disregard parents have for their children's safety while under the perceived safety net of the school zone.

Parents allow their kids to unbuckle their seat belts and hang their bodies out of the car windows to wave to their friends, stand up in the sunroof to greet their buddies, climb into the cargo space to wave at the cars behind them and get into the front seat — remaining unbuckled — to chat with Mom or Dad. I've even seen a child sitting on Mom's lap while "helping" her steer through the school's carpool lane. Can you imagine the horror if the driver of the car behind them was distracted for a minute by a phone call and hit the car with the "child driver," causing the airbag to inflate?

I'd hope that common sense would tell most of us that if the car is moving — even if only at a stop-and-go rate — there's a danger of getting into a collision. All the same safety rules that we adhere to while going 70 mph on the highway should also apply while in a school zone or carpool lane. Unfortunately, a recent study shows than many of us are lacking this common sense.

A recent SafeKids USA Coalition study observed drivers in 20 school zones across 15 states, including my state of Colorado. The study found that one in six school-zone drivers were distracted. The main distractions seen were cellphone/electronics, eating/drinking/smoking, reaching/looking behind, grooming and reading. School zones with a decreased speed limit showed a higher percentage of distracted drivers than school zones without one. This just proves that many parents think slowly pulling through the carpool lane gives them license to loosen up their usually sharp judgment.

This study didn't account for other typical distractions such as a parent's emotional/mental state (flustered after your hubby just called to tell you he's running late and will miss the science fair this year .... again?) or cognitive distractions like listening to the radio or trying to ignore an irrational toddler in the backseat.

According to a 1995 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, 18% of crashes in urban areas occurred when a vehicle that was stopped or in the process of stopping was struck from the rear. Unfortunately, school zones and carpool lanes are not immune from this statistic.

It's a potentially deadly oversight for parents to think their kids are invincible while driving through the carpool lane and slacking off on all the usual safety rules we'd implement in the car at any other time.

What crazy driving behaviors do you witness in your kids' school zones or carpool lanes, and what do you do to try to protect your own kids from other parents' poor choices?

Family Safety


Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars.  Email Kristin