Fourth Graders Start Spreading the News: Stop Speeding Today

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DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and City Council transportation chair Jimmy Vacca measure speeds on Atlantic Avenue with students from PS 261. Photo: Ben Fried

Students at Brooklyn’s PS 261 have clocked motorists traveling on Atlantic Avenue at an average midday speed of 38 mph — and as high as 50 mph. While the city’s 30 mph speed limit is a mystery to most New Yorkers, the students knew they were watching people break the law and put others in danger.

As part of a new program through NYC DOT’s Office of Education and Outreach, these fourth graders recently picked up some lessons about traffic safety (and math and physics), like the fact that stopping distances increase exponentially with vehicle speeds. Their teacher, Colleen Greto, said a jaw-dropping moment came when kids chalked out 160 feet — the stopping distance for cars traveling at 40 mph — on the ground of their schoolyard.

Just knowing the speed limit makes these kids experts on driving safety compared to most people who live in this city. “You guys know more than seven out of ten New Yorkers,” Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan told the class at a press event yesterday announcing the program.

The new curriculum is a departure from longstanding street safety education tactics, which portray car traffic as an implacable force of nature. The underlying premise is that there’s more to safety education than looking both ways before you cross the street.

“We’re asking kids not just to learn how to be better pedestrians, but how to ask drivers to be better drivers,” said DOT education and outreach assistant commissioner Kim Wiley-Schwartz (formerly of Livable Streets Education, a project of OpenPlans, Streetsblog’s parent organization). The city is looking to bring the curriculum to other schools, especially ones located in areas with high rates of crashes and injuries.

With the city embarking on a campaign to raise awareness of the speed limit and why it matters, teaching kids about the risks of speeding could help get the message out and change attitudes. “Boys and girls like you can be eyes and ears for adults,” said City Council transportation chair Jimmy Vacca at yesterday’s presser. “You can let adults know that they go too fast too often.”

Fourth grader Kiara Aramore said she already told her mother about the 30 mph speed limit. “If you ever get into a car, it’s important for safety,” she said. While her mom doesn’t own a car, Kiara said that “if she gets into a car she should tell the person who’s driving to go the speed limit.”

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