School safety 101: Slow down


Most area schools reopened this week, which means the roads are going to be more hectic on weekday mornings and afternoons.

Every day there will be tens of thousands of children heading to and from school. They will be on foot, riding bikes, or passengers in cars and school buses. Areas around schools will become particularly congested during drop-off and pickup times.

Drivers must remember that there are increased risks on the roads at these peak times. The beginning of the school year is a good time to brush up on some of the laws whose purpose is to keep children safe.

We remind drivers to obey school zone speed limits, which are usually 10 to 15 mph below the normal speed limit for a road, and are typically in effect from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on school days. These speed limits can feel onerous, but they’re in place to protect children, our most inexperienced pedestrians.

Our communities have neighborhood elementary schools, which means many students don’t rely on schools buses, but instead on their own two feet. With a lot of children walking to and from school, drivers must be especially cognizant of school zone speed limits.

Even though students are less reliant on school buses on Nassau County’s South Shore than in more rural areas, there are still plenty of big yellow buses out on the roads when school is in session. They are one of the safest forms of transportation for students, and transporting dozens of children at once helps reduce congestion on the roads and in school parking lots. Drivers must remember that there are rules when school buses are on the road.

When a bus is stopped to pick up or discharge children, all other vehicles on the road must stop, even those heading in the opposite direction. This law applies whenever a bus has its flashing red lights on and its stop signs deployed. According to Nassau County police, the most dangerous part of a school bus ride is getting on and off the bus.

Passing a stopped school bus is nothing short of reckless, and can result in tragedy. It’s hard to see around a bus to know if a child is crossing the street in front of it. Police note that more than half of the pedestrian fatalities in school bus-related crashes are children between ages 5 and 7. Kids are thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking about getting there safely.

Drivers who are convicted of passing stopped school buses can be penalized with up to five points on their licenses, fines of up to $400 or up to 30 days in jail. Remember, when you see a bus flash its yellow lights, that isn’t an invitation to pass it before they turn red. Rather, you should slow down and prepare to stop.

Parents should instruct their children that when they’re waiting for a bus, they should stand 10 feet back from the edge of the road, and to cross the street only in front of the bus, from a spot where they can see the bus driver and the driver can see them.

This year, many school districts are implementing new security procedures in the wake of recent tragedies, most notably the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December. While an event of this magnitude is rare, it is important for our school districts to remain vigilant to keep students and staff members safe.

We urge school leaders to continue to look at ways to improve safety and security, while being mindful that our schools should not feel like prisons, either. Visitors will need to have a little extra patience, and understand that while extra security procedures may feel like a burden, they are necessary for the well-being of our youngest citizens.

Students are facing enough pressure in school, with more difficult standards and testing. Let’s do our part to make it a little easier for them by keeping them safe.