MPD examines findings of distracted driving study

T-R PHOTOS BY SUSANNA MEYER — The crosswalk near Franklin Elementary School, one of the few crossings with a light to signal cars to stop while pedestrians cross the road.

The Marshalltown Police Department (MPD), in partnership with the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, recently launched a new project to combat the unsafe driving practices in local school zones. The goal is to address pedestrian safety concerns and general traffic safety.

In the last several weeks, the MPD has received numerous complaints about speeding and distracted driving in school zones throughout the school district. In response, the department has assigned officers to traffic enforcement duties in the areas with the most complaints. On Dec. 13 after only two hours, 32 traffic violations had been recorded.

Instead of just writing a ticket and sending the driver on their way, the officers take these opportunities to educate them on the importance of driving safely when pedestrians are present, especially in areas where young pedestrians are crossing roads.

“We definitely want to prevent tragedy, and we want to keep people safe,” Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper said. “So, we spend a lot of time talking to people about why they need to maybe change their behavior.”

Tupper said the MPD is observing people who drive through school zones at excessive speeds, and to add insult to injury, they’re often using their phones while going too fast. While young drivers under the age of 18 are the most likely culprits, it is not an isolated issue: drivers in all demographics are guilty of distracted driving and speed violations. The main goal of the initiative is to instill the importance of putting phones down and obeying speed limits, not just in school zones, but while driving anywhere.

The intersection between West Main Street and 13th Street where a pedestrian fatality occurred in May 2019 near Franklin Elementary School. A sign reminding drivers to look both ways for pedestrians stands next to the walkway.

“I think throughout our society anymore, phones have become such a big part of what we do every day. Unfortunately, too often people are using those devices while they’re driving. It’s really not just a young person problem,” Tupper said.

Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD) Superintendent Theron Schutte has also been a key player in efforts to reverse this troubling trend. In the last month, there have been three near misses for students crossing the street at Fisher Elementary School, Franklin Elementary School and Marshalltown High School.

“There’s heightened concern at the frequency of the complaints that have arisen,” Schutte said.

A fatality near Franklin Elementary School in May of 2019 has heightened the sense of urgency around resolving the issue for both the school district and the MPD. Christian Maxon, a Franklin second grader, was crossing the street when he was tragically struck by a vehicle and killed.

To ensure student safety, Schutte said many local schools have crossing guards, who are volunteers from the district staff. These attended crossings, however, only make up a small portion of the total number of crosswalks in the area.

In addition to crossing guards to help minimize the risk of accidents, Schutte said the MCSD reports any relevant traffic violations, speeding, or distracted driving to the MPD.

“We work very closely with law enforcement on these issues,” Schutte said.

In the future months, traffic safety will remain a top priority for the MPD, specifically in school zones where students could be seriously injured.

“We’re going to continue to concentrate our efforts on school zones and do everything we can in cooperation with the public to keep our kids safe and to keep the motoring public safe,” Tupper said.


Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or



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