The Law Enforcement Approach

The previous sections summarized ways that the school and neighborhood can work together to improve safety behaviors. This section looks specifically at what only the law enforcement officer can do.

Law enforcement includes a variety of methods that use both technology and personnel to raise awareness and educate motorists about their driving behaviors and how they relate to the safety rules. An effective law enforcement program is more about providing visible police presence for improved behavior than writing a lot of tickets. The intent of enforcement is to get people to change dangerous behaviors that could cause a crash and subsequent injury or fatality. However, for some dangerous behaviors, enforcement activities need to be implemented early. For example, giving citations for exceeding the speed limit, even by 5 to 10 mph, is especially important in school zones since driving speed increases the likelihood of being severely injured or killed if struck by a vehicle (UK Department of Transportation, 1987).

Effective SRTS Law Enforcement has Three Basic Steps

1. Involve parents and the community.

Generally, most of the traffic around schools is made up of neighborhood residents, parents of students, and the school’s faculty and staff. An effective program will seek to notify all groups that a strong traffic law enforcement program is beginning.

2. Use public awareness and education first.

Public awareness and education needs to occur before law enforcement activities. The awareness and education messages should inform people of the problem and why enforcement action is needed. This will generate public support and help to offset any complaints from those who are caught breaking the law. The public next needs to be told what the enforcement activities will be and when they will start. Methods for raising awareness include sending flyers home with students, mailing materials to residents living within a certain distance of the school, and using local television stations and newspapers to spread the message. Portable speed limit signs and speed reader boards are effective tools for providing real time speed information to drivers (Federal Highway Administration, 2004c). For some drivers, raising that awareness may be enough to cause them to alter their unsafe actions.

3. Provide officer training.

Officer training is critical to an effective law enforcement program. The training should include information on what, when, where and how law enforcement should occur to maximize behavior change and to reduce the number of crashes involving pedestrians.

The Media's Role in Enforcement Efforts

All the components of a good law enforcement program—creating awareness, alerting the public and the actual enforcement event—benefit from media coverage. The goal is to garner substantial media attention, not give numerous tickets. If 10 motorists receive tickets and 100,000 people hear about it, the enforcement effort will have a bigger impact than if officers issue 100 tickets, and only the recipients know what happened. The key to a successful campaign is to provide information before the enforcement event occurs to encourage community support and facilitate positive coverage. Without such prior notification, motorists may claim to be caught by surprise, which can lead to negative publicity.

There are many ways to involve the media. For example:

  • Neighborhood and school leaders can hold a press conference to talk about pedestrian safety and tell the public that they are requesting more enforcement.
  • Organizers can provide the press with packets of information about walking and safety statistics, and information about the need to improve the health of students.
  • Informed parents, students and educators can be available to talk to the media. A child who is well-versed in the pedestrian problems near the school can provide an important perspective. Hearing a child explain how difficult it is to cross a street will have a bigger impact than reading a statistic.

Parents and the entire community can be made aware of the enforcement effort in a variety of ways to ensure they know what will happen before the program begins in force. School officials or event organizers can:

  • Send home fliers with students.
  • Publish an article in the local newspaper.
  • Send an e-mail to all parents.
  • Put up speed reader boards so drivers see for themselves what their speeds are compared to safe speeds in school zones.
  • Post information signs near where the enforcement effort will occur.

As the population becomes more ethnically diverse, providing safety messages to the public in varying languages and with culturally relevant messages will be critical for the success of the effort.