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Roanoke City Police show seconds count when it comes to school zones

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) – Every fall, more than 55 million children across the United States head back to school and 13 percent typically walk or bike to class, according to AAA. Roanoke City Police have written hundreds of tickets over the last few years for drivers speeding in a school zone. They will be patrolling Tuesday when school starts.

Slamming on the brakes to avoid something in the road. How fast could you react?

Back to school means buses on the road and school zones. The afternoon is particularly dangerous. Over the last decade, nearly one in four child pedestrian fatalities occurred between 3 and 7 p.m. according to AAA.

"We really want the motorists to be aware of those sudden speed changes," said Officer Rick Clark, a Roanoke City Police traffic safety officer who has seen what can happen. "Death is the ultimate. I'm a fatality investigator for our department and I don't like to be woken up at two or 3 o'clock in the morning and have to go explain to somebody's parent, child, their family member has passed away. That's the hardest part of my job is dealing with stuff like that and that's why we're just urging everybody please let's be aware of what's going on and pay attention to the road and rules of the road."

Police blocked off an area of the civic center  and put us to the test. We saw just how important it is to pay attention.

"There's actually three phases of what people see. It's perception, reaction and breaking. You're doing all three of those when you're driving," said Clark. "People's reaction time is about 1.466 seconds to 1.5."

When seconds count we saw how long it would take to stop going 30 miles per hour  which would mean we were speeding in a school zone.

"You can see at 31 you would've hit a pedestrian in the crosswalk," said Clark after our first speed test.

At 31 mph it took me 20 feet  to come to a complete stop. For the next test we slowed it down just a little.

At 25 mph, the speed in some school zones, it took a full 2 seconds for me to come to a complete stop still going a little into the crosswalk.

At 15 miles per hour it took just one second to stop and stopping in plenty of time to avoid anyone stepping into the crosswalk.

"You perceive the hazard, you reacted to it and you stop short," said Clark who says that's exactly what they want people to do. "Be aware of that hazard, be looking, be constantly scanning as you're driving down the street. Be looking for people who are on the side of the roads because not everybody crosses at a crosswalk. People dart out in front of cars."

Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. AAA says a boy hit by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to just 10 mph faster.