It's that time of year again when parents and their children will crowd the stores with excitement and anxiety as back-to-school time returns. Stores are packed with shoppers looking for deals on clothes and school supplies, and everyone is counting down the days left before the year starts.
The new school year is here and, aside from the stores being packed, we must also realize that it is that time of year again where we all need to remind ourselves of the rules of driving in and around school zones.
As we left off from the last school year, we discussed how we all have a responsibility of keeping our children and community safe. To do that, we all individually have to hold ourselves accountable for how we drive, especially around school zones.
For the most part, during the summer, you are allowed to ignore the school-zone speed limit signs because they state that it is only "during school hours" (with some school locations being the exception). However, school is back in session this week, so we now have to retrain ourselves to obey the school zone traffic laws again for the new school year.
Let's recap on some of the rules so we can start off the school year in the safest, possible way:
The speed limit is 15 mph in a school zone. Notice how it says "limit." In other words, you don't have to go 15 mph, you can even go slower to be extra cautious just as long as you don't go over 15 mph. This is not made to annoy you, or to keep you from getting to work on time. Instead, realize that it is made for the safety and protection of our children in case a child falls off their bike on the sidewalk and falls into traffic, or if for some reason you did not see one more child enter the crosswalk and you started to proceed. Going 15 mph or less will give you a sufficient amount of time in case you have to stop suddenly.
When approaching a crosswalk with children or adults present, you must come to a complete stop. It is not a rolling stop, but an actual complete stop. There are going to be times when there is one more child that is going to try and dart across the crosswalk at the last minute. Crossing guards are there to try and prevent this but it could still happen. Coming to a complete stop will give everyone that extra second or two to look in all directions before starting to proceed again.
You are not allowed to pass in a school zone. For example, at Kyrene de los Cerritos Elementary, if you are turning left into the school drop-off lot coming from Chandler Boulevard, then you should be in the left lane before approaching the crosswalk. If you are just someone who needs to pass that area on a regular basis, and are not trying to go into the school, then stay in the right lane so you don't get stuck in Cerritos' drop-off traffic, and then have to pass to get out of that left lane, which would be illegal. The same thing goes if you are coming from the other direction. Stay in the right lane if you are going into the school, or stay in the left lane so you don't illegally pass, and this way you can avoid getting stuck in school traffic altogether.
With the new school year, children are excited to see their friends after a long summer, and are excited to see who has what teacher, and who is in their class, etc. So, chances are they might not be paying attention as they should be, especially in the beginning of the school year. Therefore, we as drivers need to be aware of what they are doing as well. If children are not paying attention to what is going on, then we need to make up for that. For example, if a child thinks that the crossing guard put up their sign because they were too busy doing their homework, the driver needs to acknowledge that and stop completely. If you are going 15 mph or less this should be no problem because you are already prepared.
We all have a part in this. Parents need to teach their children what the rules are to keep them safe. Children need to learn how to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Drivers need to obey all traffic laws, signs and cones, and be aware of the children. School administrators need to make sure that the flow of traffic and setup is in the safest interest of the children. Crossing guards need to be aware of what both the drivers and children are doing. If we all do our part, then we can surely make school safety a guarantee this year.
• Michelle Arana is a crossing guard at Kyrene de los Cerritos Elementary School in Ahwatukee Foothills.