Parachute Elementary Road Safety Logo.

Elementary Road Safety Guide

The facts:

  • Traffic congestion and unsafe driver behaviour are common in school zones during drop-off and pick-up times. These unsafe conditions put children at risk, especially considering that young children may not always be aware of, or cautious about their surroundings.
  • Overall, pedestrian and bicycle-related injuries are among the leading causes of death and hospitalization for youth.
  • Only 25 percent of children and youth aged 5 to 17 use "active transportation" – that is, walking, wheeling, running or jogging. In many cases, children who are able to walk or ride their bikes to school are dropped off in a motor vehicle instead. (Source:  Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute)


The Elementary Road Safety program will equip you with the necessary tools to tackle and address school zone safety issues in your community. You will learn how to:

  • assess risks
  • facilitate community engagement with key stakeholders
  • identify and determine appropriate structural interventions


The program outlines a set of steps and resources for communities that wish to improve safety in their school zones and increase the number of children walking, cycling, or wheeling to and from school. The program focuses on children under age 14, attending elementary school.


Let’s get started!

Step 1: Form an Elementary Road Safety (ERS) Team

Put together a winning team with a variety of stakeholders to make your Elementary Road Safety project a success. The team should consist of a school committee, together with local government, planners and enforcement representatives who have the power to implement change.


Tips: You can leverage an existing committee already active in your school (e.g. parent council, safety committee, active travel committee). Your school administration is a great partner, they can help you recruit members of your team.


Recommendations for team members:

  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • Grade 7-8 student rep
  • Municipal representation from public health or planning department
  • Enforcement (police)
  • Local cycling groups
  • City councillor’s office
  • Local school trustee

Step 2: Set up and plan your first team meeting

Once you have your group together, you are ready for your first meeting. Work with your local officials to see if any local traffic data exists on your school zone and review that information early on.

You will need to set up a plan to recruit volunteers and then assign roles for data collection and survey work. The survey work you’ll gather will be important to determine what safety features you’ll implement in your school zone.

Step 3: Collect feedback

Ask these questions on perceived immediate school zone needs to the ERS team and school administration

  • What do you think are the most high-risk safety issues in your school community related to pedestrians/cyclists?
  • What do you think are the most high-risk safety issues in your school community?
  • How do you want to introduce the ERS project to your school?

Step 4: Complete your school zone assessment

Before starting any safe school zone interventions your community should evaluate your school zone. You’ll use the information you collect to help choose the most appropriate, evidence based interventions. After your interventions are in place, you should evaluate the school zone again to measure any change.
Some of the measurements you will collect before and after starting your intervention include:

  • information on driving behaviours in the school area.
  • how children travel to school (e.g., walking, wheeling or being driven in a vehicle).
  • physical features in the school zone (e.g., posted speed limit signs).
  • what parents and caregivers think about traffic danger near the school.


Measurement is important because it will help you understand if the interventions your community has put in place are having the effect you wanted to achieve, such as lower speeds, safer driving behaviours or fewer injuries.



Complete the Site Audit Form

You can use this tool to collect information about the physical features of each road that borders the school. This information will help you decide what new features to add to improve safety for children travelling to and from the school.


When to use this tool

  • Perform the first site audit before you make any physical changes to the area surrounding the school (e.g., putting in new signs or changing speed limits.)
  • Do a follow-up site audit once all interventions/physical changes have been made to the roads surrounding the school.


How to complete your site audit

  • Identify the audit area. It should include the roadways that immediately surround the school.
  • Depending on how many roads border the school you will need approximately three observers to collect site audit information.
  • Give each observer one roadway to audit. Walk from one end of the roadway to the other and, using the form, check off any of the features you see.
  • For more detailed information, you can consult the City of Toronto’s Traffic Calming Guide.



Complete the Driver and Pedestrian Safety Checklist

This checklist will be used to collect information about dangerous driver and pedestrian behaviours around the school during morning drop-off time.

This tool will be used again after interventions are implemented to determine if there was an improvement in the school zone: that is, do we now see less-dangerous driving behaviour at the school.



When to use this tool

  • Perform the first Driver and Pedestrian Safety Checklist on a good weather day and when no special events are scheduled (e.g., bike to school week, PA Day).
  • The following year, do a follow-up checklist on roughly the same day with similar good weather conditions after all interventions/physical changes have been made to the roads surrounding the school.


How to use this checklist

  • You will need two observers standing on opposite sides of the school (e.g., one near a parking lot and one near the front of the school).
  • Complete the check over a 20-minute period – 15 minutes before the bell rings and five minutes after.
  • Each observer will fill in whether they saw each behaviour at least once at the school. Note: this is not a count of how many times the behaviour was seen but only a yes/no indicator of whether the behaviour was seen at least once.
  • Once the observers have completed their checklists, they should combine their observations to determine which behaviours were seen at that school. 



Complete the Observational Counts Form

This will help you collect information and understand about travel mode (i.e., how children get to school – by walking, wheeling, and as passengers in a vehicle) during morning drop-off time. Collecting this information will help you know if any of your interventions have helped to increase the number of children who use active forms of transportation to school (i.e., walking, wheeling, and wheeling on scooter or rollerblades.



When to use this tool

During your first year, perform the first observational counts in the first months of the school year on a good weather day and when no special events are scheduled (such as bike to school week).
The following year(s), do a follow-up count on roughly the same day with similar good weather conditions after all interventions or physical changes have been made to the roads surrounding the school.


How to use the counts form

  • You will need two observers standing on opposite sides of the school (e.g., one near a parking lot and one near the front of the school). Each observer counts how many children use a specific travel mode to get to school.
  • If this is a very large school (600 or more students) with a high attendance rate, you may need a third observer.
  • Complete the count over a 20-minute period – 15 minutes before the bell rings and five minutes after.
  • Each observer fills in whether each student approaching the school was being dropped off in a motor vehicle (“car occupant”), walking (“pedestrian”), cycling (“bicycles/tricycles”), or wheeling (“scooters/roller blades”).
  • At the end of the 20 minutes each observer totals the number tallied for each transportation mode (i.e., car occupant, pedestrian, bicycles/tricycles, scooters/rollerblades).
  • Once all observers have completed their counts, add the totals for each travel mode together for a final travel mode count for the school.



  • When doing the follow-up count after the interventions, observers should try and stand in the same location as for the first count. This information can be found on the Observational Counts Form, in the “details of observation location” section.
  • Some parents may drive to a location near the school, park, and then walk with their kids to the front entranceway. Look for keys, typically parents who have driven their children to school are holding car keys in their hands.
  • Sometimes parents who walk their children to school are also with another child, such as an older or younger sibling, who isn’t a student at the school. Look for backpacks and make sure the child actually enters the school before counting them in your tally.



Administer the Caregiver Questionnaire

Use this tool to collect information from parents and caregivers of students about active transportation habits, perception of obstacles related to active transportation, and perception of traffic safety or danger around schools.

Understanding why parents, caregivers and students may or may not use active transportation to school will help you choose evidence-based interventions that are likely to be effective in your community.



When to use this tool

  • This questionnaire should be given to parents and caregivers at the beginning of the school year and collected as soon as possible.
  • This can be used as an engagement tool between ERS team and caregiver.
  • If your school is interested in seeing whether or not traffic safety perceptions have changed, you can do a follow-up questionnaire after your interventions.


How to use the Caregiver Questionnaire

  • Have parents and caregivers of students answer the questionnaire by either filling in the blanks, circling the most appropriate answer, and ranking where applicable.
  • Anyone who is not a parent – such as a paid nanny, an older sibling, a grandparent, a neighbour – should be classified as “guardian” for the purposes of the questionnaire.

Step 5: Review and share your data

Now you can review the data that you’ve collected from the Site Audit, Driver and Pedestrian Safety Checklist, Observational Counts and Caregiver Questionnaire. It would be beneficial to partner with a professional data evaluator to help review and analyse you findings. Present your findings to the ERS team and school administration.

The ERS team should then hold community consultations and engage with stakeholders to prioritize safety issues based on data.

Step 6: Planning your intervention

Partner with expert municipal planner/engineer to provide appropriate and feasible intervention options. Your Elementary Road Safety project should aim for three to five interventions with a focus on infrastructural changes. You will need to assess which interventions will be possible or available in your municipality.


Here are the pros and cons of some interventions that may work in your school zone:


Pedestrian crossings: signals or zebra stripes

  • Pros:
    • Variety of options (Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons, zebra markings)
  • Cons:
    • Can be expensive, depending on which signals are selected

Kiss ‘n’ Ride (new or redesigned)

  • Pros:
    • Drop off / pick up drive-in space for children travelling to and from school
  • Cons:
    • Too many cars located in the space at one time
    • Parents see it as a “drop-off and walk in” space

Watch your speed feedback sign

  • Pros:
    • Drop off / pick up drive-in space for children travelling to and from school
    • Easily implemented: Can move around to different locations surrounding the school (i.e. not permanent)
  • Cons:
    • Short-term effects on speed (directly in front of signs)

Speed limit reduction: 40 km/h to 30 km/h

  • Pros:
    • Easily implemented
    • Proven to reduce severe injuries in kids when speed limit is at or below 30 km/h
  • Cons:
    • May require police enforcement to be effective

Traffic calming curbs

  • Pros:
    • Easily implemented
    • Cost-effective
  • Cons:
    • Not available in all municipalities

Designated school drop-off areas

  • Pros:
    • Can reduce congestion and double-parking/other dangerous driving behaviours
  • Cons:
    • Need existing space/infrastructure

Speed humps

  • Pros:
    • Effective at reducing collisions/severe injuries
  • Cons:
    • Expensive
    • Time-consuming to implement

Parking restrictions

  • Pros:
    • Easily implemented
    • Cost-effective
    • Decreases congestion
  • Cons:
    • Can increase speed

Automated enforcement cameras

  • Pros:
    • Another indicator of speeding around schools
  • Cons:
    • Expensive
    • Need municipal partners
    • Concerns about privacy

Step 7: Consider how you will budget for your project

Build out an annual budget and funding plan to support interventions and project work. Keep in mind that the full program is a two-three year time investment to allow for research, consultation, work with local officials, implementation of safety measures and follow up to ensure that your measures have made a difference.

  • Decide how intervention expenses will be covered and how funding will be pursued: Is there an available municipal program.
  • Are you able to fundraise?
  • What kind of permissions might you need to get from your municipality?

Step 8: Plan an awareness-raising campaign

Finally, plan and execute an awareness-raising campaign to publically launch Elementary Road Safety in your community. Here are some tips and examples of campaigns focused on encouraging walking, cycling and other active transportation.

Walking Blitzes

  • Raise awareness of walking and consider ways to increase active and safe routes to school.
  • Run a poster campaign or an art contest to promote children walking and cycling more.
  • Create an incentive. Use a simple prize for the top walker of the month or have a healthy breakfast morning for those who choose to walk on a certain day.
  • Develop a “Walking School Bus”, where children walk together with caregivers and police from various meeting points around school.
  • October is International Walk to School Month, known as IWALK. Check out those resources and programs to support your efforts to get more children walking to school.


Cycling and Wheeling Blitzes

  • Provide cycle and wheeling training from your local road safety officer for students to practice safe wheeling skills away from traffic.
  • Launch a poster campaign indicating the local cycling routes and cycle/wheeling parking locations.
  • Create an incentive award of the “cyclist of the month” to win a free bike. The more a student cycles/wheels to school, the more the times their name is entered into a draw.
  • Obtain more cycle/wheeling parking and locate it in a visible place on school grounds.
  • Run a “bike doctor” event. Ask students to bring in their old bikes and organize a bike mechanic to deliver a workshop to get those bikes back in shape.
  • Tap into Bike Month in May and back to school week. There are many tips and advice on other events that will inspire ideas for your school.


Idling and Illegal Parking Blitzes

These campaigns focus on changing parent and adult behaviour.

  • Create a mock ticketing program for enforcement officers and student volunteers to ticket “fake ticket” cars that remain idling in a certain area or are parked illegally (parked in crosswalk or stop sign areas; double parking).
  • Discuss a “no idling” campaign with your Green Schools Committee, if you have one.
  • Ask parents to sign a pledge to stop parking illegally.

Thank you and keep in touch

Thank you for taking the steps to make your school zone safer for all child pedestrians and cyclists. Collisions on our roads are predictable and preventable and even small changes can create major impact and prevent child death and injury.


We want to hear all about your Elementary Road Safety project. Stay connected and join the Elementary Road Safety network so you can share and learn about other ERS projects across Canada.

Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag:

  • #ElementaryRoadSafety
  • #TakeBackOurRoads
  • @parachutecanada
  • @AvivaCanada