The biggest safety concern police have as local public schools prepare to reopen Monday for the new term surrounds parents who drive students to and from campuses.
“Obviously, there’s a lot more traffic than normal during those times, and we mainly want people to look out for the different traffic patterns at schools,” said Lt. Kelly Hiatt of the Mount Airy Police Department.
Come Monday morning, schools that have largely sat dormant during the summer will become beehives of activity not unlike Grand Central Station. And there will be added risks as a result, said Hiatt, whose focus in the city police Community Services Division is on prevention.
“Just pay attention to the way the school has their pattern set up,” is his advice to motorists dropping off kids, “because they’re designed to be safe and make it (the process) quicker.”
Police are especially concerned about the initial stages of the new school year, when more parents tend to take their children to school, usually younger students, until they become acclimated to the routine.
“It’s always heavier the first two or three weeks,” Hiatt said of school-related traffic, with Monday expected to be a particularly busy day — accompanied by some confusion.
Being aware of campus locations is advised.
Drivers are urged to obey signs posted around school entrances, which typically are aimed at having them enter and exit at certain locations. All schools have different patterns due to the layout of the buildings, parking lots and streets.
As an example, Hiatt mentioned a “no left turn” sign on Culbert Street at Tharrington Primary School. Drivers attempting to turn left usually will lead to traffic backups, “which cause a hazard,” he said.
Motorists also are reminded that there will be more pedestrian traffic due to some kids walking to and from school, or riding bicycles. This is a special concern in neighborhoods without sidewalks, and drivers should be extra-attentive when backing out of driveways or leaving a garage.
Extra Police Presence
Additional patrols are planned by police, who will be on the lookout for speeding and other violations around campuses.
“We will have a greater force out on the streets there near the schools, especially the first few weeks when schools go into session and when school lets out at the end of the day,” Hiatt warned.
“We’ll be working traffic and watching for violations, hoping people will comply without a citation — what we’re looking for is compliance.”
Police say most traffic accidents are caused by speeding; talking on cell phones and texting while driving; reckless driving; stoplight/stop sign violations; safe movement offenses; and inattention.
Local motorists should allow more travel time in making their daily rounds to compensate for the extra traffic and possible delays accompanying a new school session.
Another priority is school bus safety, which behooves motorists to watch for buses traveling on streets and making stops to pick up and discharge kids, along with flashing lights and stop signs on the vehicles.
Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus is stationary, and children are getting on or off, with drivers required to stop and wait until the red lights aren’t flashing. Motorists may continue when the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving.
All motorists must stop for a school bus that is picking up or discharging students, no matter how many lanes are on the street. That’s unless the street is divided by a grass or concrete median and drivers are traveling on the opposite side of the median than where the bus is stopped.
Earlier this month, the N.C. General Assembly enacted tougher penalties for those passing a stopped school bus while students are getting on or disembarking. They will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor carrying a minimum fine of $500 under the new legislation.
“We do get reports of that,” Hiatt said of people passing stopped buses, “and it is a problem that is worse the first few weeks of school.”
Students having to cross the street in front of the bus should walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus before crossing. They should be sure that the bus driver can see them, and they can see the driver.
The area 10 feet in front of the bus where the driver could be too high to see a child; 10 feet on either side of the bus, where a child might be in the driver’s blind spot; and the area behind the vehicle are the most vulnerable, according to the N.C. Highway Patrol.
Many pedestrian fatalities in school-bus related crashes involve children between 5 and 7 years old.
Motorists also should watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops, and be alert to the possibility that those arriving late for a bus might dart into the street without checking traffic.
On average, five to six children are killed and about 5,500 injured in school bus-related accidents each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The local area has been fortunate in avoiding pedestrian tragedies among students, according to Lt. Hiatt.
“I don’t remember the last time we had anything serious,” he said.
Law enforcement officers hope to maintain that record when school begins again Monday, with the cooperation of the public viewed as a key factor.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.