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Legal Review: Lawmakers Cross the Aisle and Introduce Legislation to Make School Commutes Safer for Pedestrians and Bicyclists

By Personal Injury Attorney Jacob Kimball of Springs Law Group

According to the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), between 10 to 14 percent of morning rush hour car trips are for school travel. It’s no wonder, then, that there is a substantial personal injury risk posed to students who opt to walk or bike to school.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada, and Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican out of North Dakota, teamed up to co-sponsor a bill that would expand the reach of the “Safe Routes to School Program” to include high schools.

As written, the program, which is administered by DOT, currently applies only to elementary and middle school systems. This means that the federal dollars made available through the program are inaccessible to high schools. Senators Cortez Masto and Cramer seek to change this.

The goals are two-fold: encourage students to walk or bike to school and make it safer for them to do so.

Senator Cortez Masto touts the enormous health benefits that are associated with school children opting to walk or bicycle to school, but she cautions that their journey must be a safe one. Vehicles have struck too many students — sometimes fatally — as they walked or rode their bikes to class.

Senator Cramer hopes the legislation would support local education systems in their efforts to make the commute to school a safer one and to prevent tragic accidents for children of all ages, not just elementary and middle school students.

The threat posed to students is severe. Last year in Washoe County, which is within Cortez Masto’s home state of Nevada, cars hit more than 20 students as they walked or biked to school. Of those, 12 were in high school. In November of 2019, a 14-year-old girl was struck as she walked to school. The driver left the scene, and the girl passed away from her injuries.

If successful, an expanded Safe Routes to School Program would allow all school systems — elementary, middle, and high — to promote the healthy behavior of walking and biking to school, and protect those students in their commute by improving necessary infrastructure, enforcement and safety education.

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