Data shows grim picture of driving behavior near schools
Editor's note: Noah Budnick's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.
Using sensors embedded in smartphones, a leading traffic analytics company has compiled a detailed portrait of driver behavior on roads surrounding more than 125,000 schools across the country.
Zendrive's "School Safety Study" measures the behavior of more than 9 million drivers, tracking their phone use while driving, speeding, rapid acceleration and hard-braking events logged within a quarter-mile of schools. The majority of schools measured earned a C grade or worse, according to the company. Over the last year, 30 percent of schools saw driver behavior deteriorate to more dangerous levels.
The company has been doing the study for three years, but recently, it wanted to do more than measure data. It wanted to help eliminate dangerous conditions.
Last week, Zendrive announced a grant program called Fund My Streets. In conjunction with some high-profile partners, the company will award $50,000 to an organization that uses data from the safety study to design a plan to improve traffic safety.
"One thing we've been able to do is inform communities about the safety around their schools," said Noah Budnick, data practice and policy director at Zendrive. "But we wanted to help people improve safety."
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for children and young adults in America, according to the National Safety Council. Recent crashes involving school buses have served as tragic reminders that kids are vulnerable when traveling to and from their schools.
Any community organizations, including local chapters of the Parent Teacher Association, can apply for the grant. Applications are due by Nov. 26. Zendrive is launching the initiative in partnership with ride-hailing services Lyft, Uber and Juno, scooter purveyors Lime and Bird and several safety groups.
The winning school will receive technical support and assistance from Zendrive, and the company hopes the grant funding will spur measurable improvements in hazardous situations within six months.
"The data we measure comes in real time, so we're able to look at the impact of changes on the ground very quickly," Burdick said. "We'll be able to look at the beginning of the grant program and the end of the program, and see how driver behavior changes. It's a really effective way to drive progress."
Code embedded in the apps of Zendrive's partners captures anonymized data from the accelerometer and gyroscopic sensors in phones, along with information on phone use while vehicles are in motion. The company's main business is providing analytics to fleet and insurance companies, along with app-based coaching for drivers that helps them establish safer driving habits.
From that data, the San Francisco company also aggregates learnings about driving habits across the country. Findings from the company's "Distracted Driving Snapshot" released this year suggest that levels of distracted driving on public roads are 100 times worse than estimates provided by federal safety regulators and that more than 60 percent of drivers use their phones behind the wheel at least once on an average day.
In analyzing behavior around schools, Zendrive looked at data compiled during April around 125,703 schools. The company culled information obtained from both peak pickup and drop-off times, and it looked at round-the-clock behaviors. Grades are determined by the number of unsafe events measured near a given school, and the schools are graded on a curve.
Even for applicants who don't take home the funding, Zendrive is hoping to spur ideas on how schools can make small changes that help prevent deaths and injuries among children.
"If you think about safe streets for anybody, kids are, for us, the starting point," Burdick said. "Streets should be safe enough for kids to get to school."
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