It is hard to believe but summer is all but over and school has started for millions of Canadian children.
With that comes responsibility for motorists to add another page to their “watch list” — students going to/from school whether by foot, bus, personal vehicle or other means.
Most communities will notice an immediate uptick in traffic with school back in session. An ever-growing number of students have their own vehicle — or access to a family vehicle and that in itself changes the traffic environment.
Not only will they add to numbers, the majority of them will be distracted and many will be inexperienced. The distraction will come in many forms, ranging from excitement and friends in the car to where to park and whether or not they are wearing the right clothes.
Be prepared to cut these young drivers some slack as they get into a new routine and gain the experience necessary to drive safely.
At the other end of the student age range are the wee ones — off to school for the first or perhaps second time. Excitement can be defined by this group — as well as fear. But all will be distracted and whether getting in or out of a bus or car, the last thing most will do is check for traffic.
Every year we hear of children being struck my motorists and, while the majority of these incidents result in minor injuries, some are not and all are traumatic for both driver and child.
In the days before school goes in, look for new school zone or crossing signs on routes you travel frequently. It is possible a new school has been opened or parking and access to an old school changed.
Crossing guards will pop up in new places and a wary eye is needed to look well down the road and not only see them but prepare to stop accordingly.
We are all aware of a certain group of drivers who are either completely blind, in such a hurry or so important they don’t feel the need to share the road with others or follow the rules. Every crossing guard and bus driver has a raft of stories about close-calls involving these drivers.
It is one thing to loose your concentration for a moment and notice a child, bus, sign etc. at the last moment. It is quite another, and in my mind criminal, to deliberately ignore the safety of others and rush through a crossing, pass a bus while children are getting on or off or otherwise put pedestrians at risk because you can’t be bothered to slow or stop.
Thankfully, law enforcement officials share that belief and are becoming increasing vigilant in this respect.
But whether you are a driver or not, parents also play a significant role in teaching children safe habits.
How many times have you watched a parent take a child by the hand and cross a street between intersections, a short distance from a marked, signed and signalled crosswalk? That child automatically assumes it is OK to do so, to ignore the areas designated for their safe passage, he or she has effectively been trained to ignore one of the most basic traffic safety rules.
Most of us have “cross only at crosswalks,” “look both ways before crossing the street” and “don’t cross between parked cars” drilled into our basic thought process. But some do not and they are passing this dangerous lack of sense along to another generation.
As parents, we try to teach our children the safe way and location for crossing streets, and the wisdom of making sure drivers see them and are going to stop. “Point, pause and proceed” a mantra for the little ones. As drivers have to not only be wary at marked areas, but in between as well, especially where lines of sight are poor. And of course, regardless of weather, park well back from crossings.
Roughly 20-25 per cent of driving-age adults have children in the school system. They can be expected to be aware of students, schools, buses, and crossing guards. But that leaves 75 per cent or more of drivers unaware of the issue, and in need of extra vigilance.