The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

August 27, 2013

School ‘daze’ can be dangerous times

— Emotions are running high this week as most of our region’s young people head back to school.

For many, there is the anticipation and excitement that come with starting new classes, meeting new teachers, making new friends, and, for some, moving into new schools. 

Staying safe and alert, unfortunately, are not at the top of students’ to-do lists.

Mothers and fathers are anxious, too, particularly those whose kindergarten- and grade-school-age children will be making their way to and from school-bus stops and dealing with traffic issues.

We urge motorists to be especially alert in these early days when confusion reigns as children adapt to new habits and procedures involved with attending school.

PennDOT officials are all too aware of annual statistics that tell of the dangers awaiting children and motorists alike in these late August and early September days.

“As students return to the classroom, drivers who haven’t had to drive around buses or students for months must be alert for bus stops and school zones,” PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said.

“The consequences of just a moment of distraction could prove to be tragic.”

Our news pages attest to that. School start-up times and prom seasons nearly always bring traffic horror stories that tear at our heartstrings. Let’s make this year an exception.

Particularly worrisome these days, too, are the high number of 16- and 17-year-olds who drive to and from schools for various reasons. We continue to urge administrators and school directors, but most of all, parents, to revisit and tighten these rules. Most students should be using buses taxpayers are being forced to supply – many of them now being operated half-empty.   

Meanwhile, PennDOT reminds motorists that under the state’s school-bus-stopping law, drivers approaching a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended are required to stop in all directions at least 10 feet from the bus. The only exception to the law is when a school bus is stopped on the opposite side of a highway clearly separated by a divider, such as concrete barriers or grass medians.

“Even in this situation, motorists should remain watchful of students trying to cross the road to catch the bus,” a PennDOT release notes.

If convicted of violating Pennsylvania’s school-bus-stopping law, drivers face a $250 fine, five points on their driving record and a 60-day license suspension.

For most of us, that’s a hard hit on our driving privileges.

Drivers need to realize that students are also exposed to traffic while waiting for buses or walking to the bus stop or school.

“In addition to watching for school buses, motorists should be alert in school zones, which become hubs of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Motorists are required to slow down to the posted speed limit of 15 mph in school zones,” PennDOT warns.

Thankfully, at many of our schools, police patrols are generally nearby to monitor traffic flow. Violators face a fine and three points on their driving record.

And while we worry about students getting to and from school, recent past history has put a lot of focus on keeping young people safe while in classes and on playgrounds.

Let’s remember that addressing those issues are the responsibilities of all of us, and not just of administrators, teachers, aides and other school workers.

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