Shared Use and Safe Routes to School: Managing the Fear of Liability

Key Takeaway:

  • School policy to support shared use and SRTS can promote student safety and reduce school administrators’ liability concerns.


  • The article authors speculate that fear of liability is a key barrier to school shared use implementation. School administrators may also assume existing drop-off and pick-up are safest or have reduced risk of liability because they are routine.
  • Schools have legal responsibility for a safe recreational environment during school hours; managing risk before and after school on school groups expands this responsibility. Schools are not responsible for students’ off-campus safety, even in transport to school, unless provided by the school itself.
  • The authors identify four strategies for reducing fear of liability:

○       managing risk by providing a reasonably safe environment and adopting straightforward, proactive policies

○       transferring potential liability through shared use agreements with city parks and recreation departments

○       increasing awareness of existing legal protections afforded by state law like recreational user statutes

○       verifying the adequacy of insurance

  • The authors suggest adopting straightforward guidelines for crossing guard programs as a proactive step to minimize liability and increase student safety concerning Safe Routes to School. These included designating where and when crossing guards will work, conducting screening and training, providing appropriate equipment, educating students, parents, and school staff, and preparing contingency plans for crossing guard absences.


  • This article is a research opinion/position paper from the 2014 Public Health Law Conference on the Intersection of Law, Policy, and Prevention.
Winig, B. D., Spengler, J. O. and Etow, A. M. (2015), Shared Use and Safe Routes to School: Managing the Fear of Liability. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 43: 36–39. doi: 10.1111/jlme.12212
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