Thousands of local drivers have violated traffic laws or crashed their cars in school zones in the past three years, according to police records obtained by the News4 I-Team.
Those records and corresponding surveillance work by the I-Team show a wide range of violations, many of which could endanger the safety of children walking to school.
“Parents are trying to get to work, kids are trying to get to school, everybody is running late,” said Montgomery County police Sgt. Jim Whalen, who helps oversee the agency’s school zone traffic details.
The I-Team monitored an inspection by Whalen’s team outside a North Potomac, Maryland, elementary school in the spring and saw a series of violations, including a parent cited for distracted driving and another stopped for failing to belt a child into his seat.
Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show hundreds of more severe violations in Maryland since 2015. At least 140 drivers were prosecuted in court for driving misconduct in school zones in Prince George’s County since 2015. At least 219 drivers in Montgomery County were prosecuted in the same time frame. Violations include reckless driving, speeding and distracted driving.
Washington, D.C., records show more than 200 school zone infractions since 2015.
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State motor vehicle data released by Virginia showed a rising number of crashes in school zones. More than 5,500 crashes have occurred in school zone since 2015, eleven of them were fatal.
Fairfax County alone experienced more than 600 school zone accidents in the same time frame.
“People need to pay attention a lot more than they do,” said Gwen Ward, whose daughter was struck and killed while crossing Germantown Road to reach Seneca Valley High School in 2012. Ward has advocated for stricter laws to control speeding and reckless driving in school zones.
“These students have to cross over major highways," she said. "We have a long, long way to go as drivers.”
Maryland legislators have considered multiple pieces of legislation to address school zone traffic safety since 2016.
A 2018 proposal from Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County) would require a statewide review of all school crossings in the state.
A separate proposal would require a reduced speed limit in all school zones.