Study gives Champaign County a 'D' for traffic safety around schools

Study gives Champaign County a 'D' for traffic safety around schools

In three years as a crossing guard outside Urbana's Wiley Elementary, Semyon Slavin says that there haven't been any close calls between motorists driving too fast and students crossing the street.

"People are good and very polite," he said. "It's fine."

So Slavin was taken aback when told that the school zone was tagged as Champaign County's most dangerous — due to speeding or distracted drivers — in a recently released report by a San Francisco-based analytics company.

Zendrive's findings are part of the company's national #FundMyStreets campaign to promote road safety in school zones. The initiative, which set out to determine which school zones were safest and which were the most unsafe, coincides with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's recent publication of school transportation-related crashes.

Zendrive Data Analyst and Policy Director Noah Budnick said that, using data collected from smartphones, the company analyzed drivers on "all surrounding roads within one-quarter of a mile" of 125,703 schools in 3,094 counties across the country for one week in April 2018.

If drivers were speeding, rapidly accelerating, braking suddenly or using their phones, their actions were recorded as "unsafe driving events," which were used to determine Zendrive's rankings.

Champaign County came within a letter grade of failing, scoring a 'D' rating in road safety, according to the company's data and scale. (Illinois as a whole fared even worse, ranking 49th of 50 states and receiving an 'F'.)

Of the 83 Champaign County school zones measured, the five deemed to be most dangerous were Wiley (No. 83), Champaign's Bottenfield Elementary (82), Champaign's South Side Elementary (81), Champaign's Franklin Middle School (80) and Champaign's Judah Christian School (79).

The county's safest school zones, according to the data: Ludlow Grade School (1), Mahomet-Seymour High and Junior High (2-3), Urbana's Kingswood School (4) and Champaign's Garden Hills Elementary (5).

Budnick said it's nothing personal.

"We're a neutral party," he said. "We do studies like this for the sake of research, and we don't have an agenda other than to save people's lives."

And yes, Budnick said, Zendrive's algorithms are able to differentiate passengers from drivers, so phone usage during a passenger's ride wasn't included in the study's data.

Zendrive, which sells analytics to insurance or fleet companies, was founded in 2013 in the Bay Area. The technology it uses was developed in conjunction with the University of Illinois.

Meanwhile, data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration between 2007 and 2016 showed that 1,282 people died in those types of crashes during that period, which amounts to an average of 128 fatalities a year. While some victims were occupants of school vehicles (9 percent), most were driving or riding in other involved vehicles (70 percent).

Zendrive's #FundMyStreets campaign prompted some concerned community members to participate in a video contest that will award local organizations $50,000 to increase safety near their schools. The voting period ends Sunday.