Danger Zones

By Jessica L. Tonn — April 05, 2005 1 min read
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Myung Oak Kim, a reporter for The Philadelphia Daily News, has been honored for her work exposing safety problems around schools in the city.

Ms. Kim won first place last month in the public-service category of the National Headliner Awards, an annual set of journalism honors sponsored by the Press Club of Atlantic City, in New Jersey.

The reporter said last week that she first noticed a problem with school-zone safety when her editor sent her out to research signs around the city’s public schools in September 2003.

Combing through the database of student injuries compiled by the 190,000-student Philadelphia school district, Ms. Kim found that an average of two students a week were being hit by cars while traveling to or from school.

“Once I saw the sheer numbers,” she said, “it became a much bigger story.”

Over the course of four days in February 2004, the paper ran an initial series of 10 stories about the problem, titled “School Zones of Danger.” The series then continued to run through December, eventually containing more than 60 articles, all reported and written by Ms. Kim.

In addition to the poor signage she had initially been assigned to cover, Ms. Kim discovered rampant speeding in school zones, little police enforcement, a dysfunctional crossing-guard program, and a “murky area of responsibility” for addressing the issue in the city government, she said.

Once Ms. Kim started reporting, however, people started paying attention.

The city of Philadelphia’s managing director at the time, Philip R. Goldsmith, set up a task force to address school zone safety in November 2003, in response to Ms. Kim’s investigations.

The task force of school officials and members of the city’s police and streets departments began installing new signs and flashing signals, improving the school crossing-guard system, and enforcing speeding and parking restrictions.

Last December, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law increasing the maximum fine for speeding in a school zone from $35 to $500. The new law, scheduled to go into effect in May, will be one of the strictest penalties for school-zone speeding in the country.

Since the new safety measures have been in effect, the number of children injured in traffic-related accidents in zones near schools this school year has dropped by 30 percent from the previous school year.


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