Summer break for students is over and schools throughout this region are now open. Every school day there are literally thousands of kids traveling to and from schools in buses and cars, they ride bicycles, skateboards, scooters and many travel by foot. I have even seen an occasion or two where a student rode a unicycle to school. Regardless of their means of travel, they are all vulnerable and the younger kids, especially, depend on us adults to look out for their welfare and safety.
The traffic laws that govern motorists in school zones while school is in session are very specific and the police enforce them rigorously. But common sense and awareness are really all that is needed to avoid tragedies like the one that occurred on Feb. 9, 2010 when five girls walking near Mae Hensley Junior High School in Ceres were struck by an errant motorist who also happened to have controlled substances in his system. One of the girls died at the scene, while the others all suffered varying degrees of injuries. What happened that day can happen again unless everyone treats school zones and the routes leading to them as special areas of concern where the utmost care in driving must be taken. The motoring public has a special responsibility to ensure that all of the kids get home safely at the end of the day.
Like many other people on the roads as they drive to and from work, I also drive past schools every day. I see the morning traffic congestion and problems as parents try to hurry to drop their kids off and as other motorists trying to maneuver through the school-related congestion while getting frustrated and making dangerous moves. The following driving actions are the most common and dangerous that need to be eliminated from school zones and surrounding areas. Both parents and persons just passing through are frequently guilty of these behaviors:
• Driving too fast
• Passing a school bus that is off-loading or taking on passengers with red lights flashing
• Dropping off or picking up kids in the roadway
• Motorists talking on cell phones or doing things other than paying attention to the road
• Failure to stop at crosswalks or not obeying school crossing guards
• Making u-turns in a congested environment.
All of the above reflect poor judgment on the part of people who do them but picking up or dropping kids off in the middle of the street is perhaps one of the biggest problems. It is extremely unsafe for the children and, at the same time, it causes traffic gridlock and makes other motorists angry and frustrated. When the frustration kicks in, that is when other motorists take risks that can endanger the kids as they hurry to get out of the school zone.
Motorists driving through the neighborhoods of schools should be mentally prepared for delays and the frustrations of those busy areas. Everyone should be on the lookout for kids on foot because they are smaller than adults, thus more difficult to see. Kids on bicycles and skateboards are common and they don't always obey the rules of the road. It is common for kids to dart out from between parked cars, so motorists should always expect the unexpected. School buses that are picking up or dropping off kids are legally protected during those times.
When a school bus is stopped and displays flashing red lights, motorists must stop. The police will not give warnings to violators of this law - it is an automatic citation that carries a hefty fine. In some instances, if a motorist has a near miss or where their actions are particularly dangerous, they could be charged with reckless driving.
The police take school zone safety very seriously, and accordingly, our enforcement of the traffic laws there will be rigorous. Most violations occur because parents and other motorists are in a hurry and are usually under pressure to get to work or to take care of other parental responsibilities. The only way to ensure safety is to drive with extreme caution and to simply expect delays and congestion when in the school zone areas. Plan ahead, eliminate driving distractions and keep in mind, at all times, how severe the next tragedy might be. The police will help with their enforcement efforts and we will not hesitate to provide strict enforcement in the school zone areas.