Every lunch hour, Randall and Mineral Point avenues are crowded with high school students driving to find food.
They’re new drivers, they’re hungry and they have limited time for lunch. As a result, speeding and reckless driving are common, police told The Gazette.
A Parker High School student on lunch break was driving to a Milton Avenue restaurant Oct. 19 when his vehicle collided with a Cadillac, killing a Milton woman, according to court documents. Investigators estimate the student was driving 83 mph in the moments leading up to the crash.
Janesville police acknowledged lunchtime driving is a problem, but it’s one without a simple fix.
Time, business interests, academic priorities and the nature of youth all have to be balanced in the equation.
At Craig High School, students enter the south parking lot from East Racine Street or Randall Avenue. But at lunchtime and at the end of the day, they all exit onto Randall Avenue. At Parker High School, Mineral Point Avenue is the exit and entrance point.
At both schools, students have a 40-minute break in the middle of the day—30 minutes for lunch with five minutes of passing time before and after, said Parker High School Resource Officer Todd Bailey.
Students have to get from classrooms to their cars and then out of the parking lot—at the same time as dozens of others are attempting the same thing—before lines at even the closest restaurants get too long. As a result, even a short trip can consume all 30 minutes.
Young people driving recklessly has always been an issue, but until a few decades ago, few high school students had cars, Craig Resource Officer Brian Foster said. The volume of young drivers has become part of the problem.
Solutions suggested include:
- Ticketing speeders and reckless drivers: “We can ticket until we are blue in the face, but the next day they’ll be right back out there,” Foster said.
Positioning squad cars near problematic spots has much the same impact. Even on the first day of stepped-up traffic enforcement, students spot the cars and then text their friends to let them know what’s going on.
Time is a factor, too. Janesville Police Sgt. Aaron Ellis, who is in charge of school resource officers, said they’ve stepped up enforcement on Fremont Street near Craig High at the request of residents. The street has fewer traffic controls, and students were using the route to make up time if they were late.
In the time it takes an officer to issue a single ticket, lunch hour would be over.
- Give students more time for lunch: “For me, personally, I’d like to see them have a little more time for lunch,” Bailey said. “I’m not going to say it’s going to be a cure-all, but it might help.”
He also acknowledged habits aren’t that easily broken, and students might simply use the extra time to go farther afield.
“It’s like that person who is always 10 minutes late for work at 9 a.m.,” Bailey said. “Move his start time up to 10 a.m. and he’ll still be late.”
Ellis said cutting into academic time for a longer lunch period didn’t seem like a great solution.
- Close the campuses: Milton High School has a closed campus. Students are not allowed to leave for lunch.
But neither Parker nor Craig has enough cafeteria space to accommodate additional lunch shifts, Foster and Bailey each said. Both schools already have two lunch periods to maximize the use of cafeteria space.
In addition, many of the businesses near the high schools depend on student traffic, Ellis said.
Both school resource officers said they work with the tools they have. If they see speeding or reckless driving or hear reports of it, the students are warned that their lunch and parking privileges could be restricted or taken away.
For a student driving to school, that would mean parking several blocks away or taking the bus. That threat seems to work better than anything else.
Janesville School District Superintendent Steve Pophal said school officials and resource officers use the tools they have.
He said traffic crashes such as the one that killed the Milton woman could happen at any time—before school, after school, at night or on the weekends.