Should Teens Not Cross the Street Alone? $90 Million Lawsuit on the Line

By Lenore Skenazy

A 13-year-old gets hit by a car while crossing the street to get to her school bus stop. She dies. Who is to blame?


Believe it or not, the school board--to the tune of $90 million. That was the decision of a Prince George County, MD, jury. What did the board do wrong? According to this story in U.S. News:

“The school board was negligent,” said John Costello, the lawyer for the family. “They had adopted a policy to provide for safe transportation. The policy was they were going to pick up Ashley on her own side of the street. They never did. They forced her to cross the street. She got killed crossing the street.”

“If she didn’t have to cross the street …  she’d be graduating this year,” her mother said. “She’d be going to prom this year.”

So if the school board was $90 million wrong for not putting a bus stop on the girl’s side of the street, does that mean every school bus should go up and then back down each street, to make sure no child ever has to cross? Otherwise are they all “negligent”?

Of course not. The jury is treating a tragic and rare event as if it were predictable or even common.  But it’s not. We know it’s not. Milllions of children around the world cross the street every day and , thank God, the vast majority of them are safe.

But when school boards start worrying that $90 million says they better not let any student cross the street EVER, well, let’s see what happens next. Will there be no more school buses, because the liability is too great? Or maybe we’ll see twice the number of daily buses--one for each side of the street? Or--here’s what I’m most afraid of--will students up to and including age 13 be required to have an adult accompany them when they cross the street?

What a simple and cheap solution that would be for the school districts and bus companies. All it would cost is a child’s autonomy and an adult’s ability to get to work on time. Already there are districts that forbid kids to ride their bikes to school, or walk home alone until a certain age, even if the parents and child both believe the kid is ready. The reason for these helicopter rules is liability. Better not to let kids do anything on their own than to face a grief-crazed jury.

It’s natural to want to blame someone when a child dies. But here’s a novel thought: Instead of blaming the very notion of expecting a 13-year-old to cross a street…why not blame the driver of the car that hit her?

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!