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Basic Considerations When Designing School Crossing Guard Programs

Effective school crossing guard programs are essential to any community concerned with the safety of school age children.  Deciding on the specific procedures for such an initiative is a community level matter.  However, state and federal government agencies do offer some general guidelines for creating an effective program.

The first step is determining where crossing guards are needed.  Public schools will of course fall under this category, but hospitals, clinics, and other heavily used facilities may require them as well.  The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), available from the US Department of Transportation, provides standards for doing so, as do many state governments.  Once the locations are chosen, the following factors must be considered:

• How old are the children or adults who will be crossing? – As a whole, younger students need more assistance from guards, as they are less able to judge the speed of approaching vehicles.  They’re also more likely to dart across a street during unsafe times.  High school students, on the other hand, might be more alert, but are also more prone to disregarding authority figures, possibly necessitating the presence of uniformed law enforcement.

• The street width and the number of lanes that must be crossed – A good rule of thumb is that one guard should be present for every two lanes. 

• Volume of traffic – When multiple potential locations for a crossing exist, the one with the lowest number of vehicles per day should be chosen.  Special studies to determine traffic volume may need to be conducted.

• Obstructions to views – A crossing sight should allow both guards and drivers to see far down the road.  Buildings, large signs, curves, and other obstructions can make a potential site unusable, unless these impediments are removed.

• The speed of vehicles at the crossing – If the surrounding speed limits are above 25 MPH, then the community may want to consider the addition of flashing warning lights, conventional traffic signals, and/or additional guards, to ensure that drivers know to slow down well before reaching the crossing point.  Easy to spot signs announcing the presence of a school should be posted along the corridor well in advance of the location.

• History of crashes at the site – The local authorities should consider how safe the proposed crossing area has been in the past.  Areas where crashes have occurred should be avoided as much as possible.  Sides of the building that front residential areas are preferable to those that face two or four lane highways.

Once the proper sites for the crossings are chosen, guards must be hired and educated in their duties.  Rural communities often solve this challenge by assigning police officers or deputies to the job, as they have usually received the appropriate training already.  Cities and suburban areas may need to hire dedicated personnel instead.  If they do, the guards must be thoroughly versed in these areas:

• Basic traffic law

• School zone signage, especially crosswalk signs

• Hand traffic signals

• Proper crossing procedures, and ways to teach them to children

• First aid and health emergency procedures

• How to time crossings with gaps in traffic so as to minimize disruption to the flow of vehicles

• What to do in case of an accident

• Keeping themselves safe as well as those using the crossing.  For example, they should know what to do if they or students are harassed or threatened by hostile dogs.  In some instances, they may need to be taught proper use of pepper spray.

A school crossing guard will also need appropriate equipment, such as uniforms, brightly colored safety vests, hats and other forms of sun protection, and, in some cases, whistles.

By taking the above factors into consideration, local authorities should be able to determine the safest spots for crossings and to train personnel to manage them.  Additional information is available from their state transportation department, as well as the federal DOT.