Do school crossing guards make crossing roads safer? An analysis of 27,827 pedestrian collisions.

Author(s): Linda Rothman

Slidedeck Presentation Only (no paper submitted):

2C - Rothman - School Crossing Guard


Child pedestrians account for up to 25% of child road traffic fatalities. Most of children’s exposure to traffic as pedestrians is during the school journey. While walking to school may have many health benefits, there are inherent risks related to pedestrian exposure to road traffic. The pedestrian environment may be modified to promote safe pedestrian travel. There is evidence from qualitative parental interviews and cross-sectional observational studies that the presence of crossing guards increases pedestrian journeys to school; however, recent evidence also suggests that crossing guards may be associated with more pedestrian collisions. It is unclear if the presence of crossing guards were markers for particularly dangerous locations, or if cross-sectional data masked the effect of the guards.

The objectives were to determine 1) the effect on pedestrian collision rates of newly implemented crossing guards in Toronto, Canada 2) the relationship between crossing guards, school travel hours and pedestrian collision rates around existing guards throughout the city.

School crossing guards with 50m buffers were mapped along with police-reported pedestrian collisions from 2000-2011. Two analyses were conducted: (1) A quasi-experimental study identified collision counts before and after newly implemented guards, modeled using repeated measures Poisson regression adjusted for season and built environment variables (2) A retrospective cohort compared the proportion of collisions occurring within and outside the 50m buffer of all guards citywide by school travel time.

There were 27,827 pedestrian collisions, with 260 collisions at the locations of 58 newly implemented guards. Repeated measures adjusted Poisson regression found collision rates remained unchanged at guard locations after implementation (IRR 1.02, 95% CI 0.74, 1.39). More collisions were associated with winter months (IRR 1.56, 95% CI 1.15, 2.11) and greater land use mix (IRR 16.11, 95% CI 5.00, 52.07). Neighbourhoods with a higher proportion of housing built before 1960 (IRR 0.46 95% CI 0.31, 0.69) were associated with fewer collisions. All road types had significantly lower rates of collisions compared to crossing guard locations at major/major roadway intersections. There were 568 guards citywide with 2,738 collisions that occurred near guards and the majority of children’s collisions occurring outside of school travel times (1,155, 62%). Most school travel time collisions occurred >50m from guard locations (600, 86%).

School crossing guards are most likely to be implemented in locations with higher traffic risks due to characteristics of the roadway and/or large numbers of children crossing. The null result may be indicative of a positive safety effect of the guards, as pedestrian volumes are likely to increase at a location when a crossing guard is implemented; thereby increasing pedestrian exposure to traffic.

School crossing guards are a relatively simple roadway modification to increase walking to school without apparent detrimental safety effects. Most collisions occurred outside of school travel times and away from existing crossing guards. Therefore, the majority of collisions involving children cannot be targeted using existing school crossing guards and other more permanent interventions must be directed towards reducing collisions outside of school travel times.