Crossing guards: Creating a safety culture around schools

Crossing Guard

The school police stopped the traffic at intersections instead of directing it, so children could cross the road. Image by Minnesota Historical Society

During the early twentieth century, cars became less expensive, and hence more common around the United States. And while that meant getting to places faster, the presence of cars on the road made the life of pedestrians tougher. There were no standardized systems in place to keep pedestrians safe. Children, being children, did not fully understand the risks associated with fast moving cars, and often dashed across the road to get to the other side. Drivers, on the other hand, were not well equipped to drive safely because they did not require licenses during that time. [Source:]

USpostage stamp

The AAA 50th Anniversary stamp promotes the School Safety Patrol program. Image by Wikimedia Commons

Traffic police were instituted at intersections but children crossing a street were still at risk where there was no officer present. Walking to and from school became a dangerous activity for children and the need to protect them at this specific time was felt. The practice of having crossing guards thus began.

In the year 1920, the Chicago Motor Club of the American Automobile Association started the concept of school safety patrols to increase safety of children going to school. In 1923, the Omaha Police Department set up a safety patrol to protect students walking to and from schools.


Crossing guards of the school safety patrol

Crossing guards schoolboy patrols

Schoolboy Patrol. Image by

Initially boy scouts of the school safety patrol were trained to direct traffic, warning drivers about the presence of children. The school safety patrol, at times referred to as Schoolboy Patrols (in the beginning girls were not included), were trained by the local police department, and had two crossing guards on either side of the intersection near the school grounds to help children safely cross the street.

Student safety patrols took some load off the police. They were also a good way of making children more safety conscious. Children acting as crossing guards efficiently managed traffic at main roads near schools with the use of STOP paddles signs. Students considered by other students to be leaders were ideally suited for the job. By assigning the same group of children to this duty, they became more confident and efficient.

Student safety patrols could only aid the police, not be a replacement for traffic safety officials. The police were still needed to provide guidance and assistance when required. By assigning personnel dedicated to encouraging such youngsters, the safety patrols were more effective.

In later years, the efforts towards keeping children safe through school safety patrols were focused on educating children to be safe rather than directing traffic over which they had no control.

Schools, as educators, were the natural choice to teach students to be careful while on the road. In the 1930s, the Board of Education in Philadelphia succeeded in significantly reducing the number of accidents involving children. The success was attributed to the belief that education for the driver alone is insufficient. The board taught students to stay on their side of the curb until a signal or sign guided them safely to the other side.

A bulletin distributed by the Superintendent of Schools to principals of Philadelphia schools had a twin purpose. It reminded heads of schools that they needed to keep safety of their students uppermost in their minds, and showed detailed statistics on how accidents happened, so principals and teachers could lay down necessary regulations that would eliminate or at least reduce the chance for juvenile accidents.

Traffic fatalities

A snippet of the bulletin.

The involvement of schools in creating awareness about the changed traffic conditions from horse-and- buggy to automobiles was necessary because it helped create a culture of safety, which is easier established with children. Old people who have spend a great part of their life in the horse-and-buggy era do not readily adapt themselves to new traffic conditions, and as such it becomes difficult to train them in that respect. However, children, because they are born in the present conditions, have no fixed habits. They have a flexible mind that is receptive to new ideas, and therefore new traffic safety conditions. Lessons taught in school are often carried at home and spread that way.

Famous crossing guards in history

Lori crossing guard

Lori, the crossing guard. Image by

Traffic stopper Lori the dog was a crossing guard who taught generations of school children about road safety in the 1970s. She traveled across the country, doing tricks to appeal to children and drive home the message of traffic safety. [Source:]

Crossing guards in the present time

Recently, a child was tragically killed when a crossing guard was not on duty. Flavia Roman, a New York school crossing guard claimed to be on duty when infact she was at home. During that time, a six year old student ran on the street and was hit by a truck. (Source: Daily News)

Safety of children around schools is just as much an issue as it was before even though now there are more laws in place, more education about the risks, and more control over driving and pedestrian behavior.

Today school crossing guards are well trained to view and hear the oncoming traffic, create a safe path for children to cross, and educate kids about safe road behavior. A combination of aptitude, temperament, and experience among other factors are considered while hiring crossing guards. [Source: FHWA]

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