Every week in California, a child is hit and killed while crossing the street. We have the nation’s highest pedestrian fatality rate among children aged 4 to 7 years old, and the second highest aged 14 years and younger. All too often, these tragedies occur in our poorest neighborhoods.
Right now, Governor Brown has an opportunity to help stop this troubling trend: SB 1151. SB 1151 would add a mandatory $35 increase in fines for unsafe driving (i.e. speeding) in a school zone. All revenues would go toward supporting active transportation and safe routes to schools projects in the state’s Active Transportation Program.
The Governor must sign SB 1151 by tomorrow, September 20, the deadline for approving bills this year. As a lawyer who works with the victims of traffic violations every day, I believe there are compelling reasons for the Governor to make SB 1151 the law without further delay.
Speeding kills. We need a stronger deterrent to speeding in school zones to protect our most vulnerable street users, children walking and biking. Drivers who put children at risk should pay appropriately, and these funds should be used to improve street safety and reduce further incidents of speeding.
Multiple precedents exist for SB 1151 amongst California’s neighbors. In Arizona and Washington, fines are doubled for traffic violations in school zones – and a portion of these funds go toward Safe Routes to Schools programs. In Portland, Oregon, a portion of an increase in fines for traffic violations goes toward a comprehensive Safe Routes to Schools pilot program for 25 elementary schools, raising $600,000 per year.
What’s more, there is significant need for increased funding to Safe Routes to Schools and active transportation programs in California. Safe Routes to Schools programs not only create safer streets, they fill a void in the health and well-being of children. 30.4 percent of children in California are overweight or obese, and a significant contributor to our obesity epidemic has been the decline of walking and bicycling to school. In 1969, 48 percent of children walked or biked to school nationally; in 2009, only 13 percent walked or biked to school.
Safe Routes to Schools programs keep children healthy, and research shows that healthy, active kids perform better in school (PDF). Despite these benefits, California has not provided enough funding for its Active Transportation Program: out of 771 applicants this year, only 145 projects received funding.
However, in spite of unanimous, bipartisan passage in both houses and all legislative committees, Governor Brown may not sign the bill because it uses fines to generate revenue. This approach is misguided: the best traffic safety policies are those that connect the violators to those placed at risk by their behaviors, and revenues generated from dangerous behavior should directly benefit those at risk to help prevent future tragedies from occurring.
SB 1151 makes perfect sense and is desperately needed to create safer, more active communities. I join TransForm, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and families across California in urging Governor Brown to sign the bill to help end California’s child pedestrian safety crisis.
You can help by sending Governor Brown an email in support of SB 1151 – but don’t wait, the deadline for his signature is tomorrow!
This is a guest post by Andy Gillin, a partner with GJEL Accident Attorneys and an author and lecturer on personal injury law.