And just like that, summer is over.
The kids will head back to school in a few short days, and they’ll be getting there on foot, by bus, in cars and on bikes. They will skateboard, run, dawdle and cluster. Many will have in ear buds and many will be peering down at cellphones.
You will tell your own kids to be careful, to be alert, to cross properly and obey traffic signals. Some will do it. And many won’t, because they’re kids. Instead, I ask all of us, as drivers, to pay a little extra attention as we navigate our streets. We’ve become accustomed in the past couple of months to school zone speed limits not being in effect. There have been few, if any, yellow buses trundling on our roads and highways.
But by next week, we’ll see the familiar crossing guards once again on duty, recognizing returning faces and learning new ones. Having that stop sign held up as you’re just about to carry on can be frustrating, but their job is very much like herding those proverbial cats: little kids can be unpredictable, and these men and women know it.
The teenagers are too cool to go with a crossing guard and often cross at random, while little ones put full trust in the power of an orange vest to literally stop speeding cars. Watch how the smallest cross some time: they don’t look at vehicles, they chatter and skip or stare at their feet. They trust.
They also bolt ahead when they see a friend, run back when they drop something, and stop halfway across to adjust a backpack or a boot.
There will be lineups of cars letting off students, and lineups of staff asking people not to park in no-parking areas. They will be ignored. That congestion is not just annoying, it’s dangerous. Make your life easier: if you have to drive your child to school, drop them a block or two away. Better yet, let them walk to school. Most kids are perfectly capable – it’s the parents who have convinced themselves they’re doing them a favour.
Flip-side, I was driving with a friend a few months back behind a school bus on a rural road. She shook her head when the bus stopped to let a child off at the foot of the driveway, rather than a central zone. One look at the sloping, unprotected shoulders and the heavy traffic thundering by, and I voted with the individual drop-off.
Speaking of those school buses, a quick reminder about what it will cost you if you blow by them with their lights flashing: the first time will cost you between $400 and $2,000, and six demerit points. Do it again, and it’s $1,000 to $4,000, six demerits and possibly six months in jail. When the lights come on, you need to stop 20 metres away in both directions. The only exception is on a highway separated by a median. Bus drivers will fill out a form to report you if you pass them; other drivers can make a type of a citizen’s arrest with details of your car and the incident and file it with police. Don’t let the absence of an officer fool you.
Show your children the route you expect them to walk to school. Remind them to be wary of cars, and to make eye contact with drivers before they step off a curb. Being in the right means little if you get hit by a car; the car wins every time.
Pedestrians – of any age – acting carelessly is not just annoying, it’s dangerous. In school areas, it can seem they’re coming from all corners. Our house rule is just because someone does something stupid doesn’t mean you get to hit them. Kids on skateboards make me crazy, occupying some netherworld between cyclist and pedestrian. My son uses a longboard, and I remind him his increased speed makes him more vehicle than boy. It’s easier to see a group of kids who are walking blow off a stop sign, but less so one who rockets out of thin air. Drivers have a huge responsibility, but so does everyone on our streets.
School buses themselves can be rolling mosh pits. A distracted driver puts everyone in their care in danger, so have a chat with your child. I know they’ll tell you everything you want to hear, but at least you’ve laid out your expectations. Some kids don’t receive even that much direction.
To the drivers, be careful. To the kids, be safe.