Safety is priority one for motorists and pedestrians as school year begins

Safety is priority one for motorists and pedestrians as school year begins

Safety is priority one for motorists and pedestrians as school year begins
Crossing guard Linn Paetz helps make sure kids at Mt. Diablo Elementary School in Clayton get to class safely. (Pete Cruz photo)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Aug. 30, 2023) — Summer vacation is over, so all you lead foots need to slow down around schools.

Area police departments are taking a zero-tolerance approach around area schools to ensure student and parent safety is prioritized as classes resume.

While citations may result for traffic infractions that are observed, deference toward education will be as critical to reinforce good habits for motorists and pedestrians alike as procedures – new and old – are being learned in the opening weeks of the new school year.

When motorists don’t pay attention to the goings on within school zones and don’t follow traffic laws, the result can be collisions and near misses with other vehicles and pedestrians, as well as unnecessary injuries, according to Concord Sgt. Shawn Phalen.

“Drive carefully and slowly through school zones, especially during drop off and pick up times. Pay attention and do not use mobile devices while driving in school zones,” said Pleasant Hill Lt. Jason Kleven.

He also recommended that commuters who are not dropping off kids, but otherwise ordinarily drive through school zones during drop off and pick up times, should think about leaving earlier or taking a different route for the first few weeks until everyone is back in school mode.

Crossing guards

With their brightly colored vests and large handheld STOP signs, crossing guards on duty at intersections around schools are not there as window dressing. Rather, they play an essential role in making safety paramount for children and parents walking or riding bikes in designated crosswalks.

Drivers need to pay attention and follow the instructions of crossing guards: when to stop and let pedestrians cross and when it’s OK to proceed.

Along with ensuring safety in school zones, Clayton Sgt. Jason Shaw noted that crossing guards ensure the flow of traffic isn’t delayed unnecessarily by making sure students and parents move in groups.

When there are needless delays due to pedestrians not paying attention, drivers can get impatient. That leads to short fuses and other potential problems.

Stay on sidewalks

Parents also can help the cause by both modeling and educating their children about proper behavior and conduct toward motorists when crossing streets so everyone gets to where they are going efficiently.

Kleven suggested that pedestrians make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street to ensure they are seen. Parents should also advise children to stay on the sidewalks.

All three officers added that parents should have conversations with their kids about wearing bicycle helmets properly, staying in bicycle lanes and only crossing the street in crosswalks.

For kids starting at a new school this year, Shaw suggests that parents do a “dry run” or two so the child knows what route to take and what to expect along their way to school.

Kleven added that families should plan to leave early, allowing plenty of time to arrive at school without rushing.

So as the school year begins, the watchword for everyone is “watching.” Motorists watching for other motorists and watching out for pedestrians and bicyclists who are making their way on the roadways through and around school yards. And pedestrians watching so they are aware of their surroundings.

After being on vacation for the past couple of months, everyone is sure to be a bit out of practice.

“As you near the school, watch for other motorists, pedestrians and crossing guards. Remember to yield to pedestrians and not block a crosswalk with your vehicle. Be courteous to other motorists and refrain from becoming upset or driving aggressively,” said Phelan. “Stay attentive to your surroundings and avoid being distracted.”

David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.