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Drivers Beware: School’s About to Start

Arm your child with safety tips that will make the trek safer.

It's that time of the year again, when lunch boxes are packed, backpacks are filled and school-aged kids are ready to hit the streets of Los Gatos on their walk to school.

But drivers and pedestrians should both be beware, as it’s a shared responsibility to keep roadways safe whether on foot or behind the wheel.

will take a proactive approach on Monday, the first day of school for both the and theThe department plans to be out in force to ensure a safe journey to school for all students.

“Our department assigns more officers to conduct traffic enforcement in the school zones during school hours,” said Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police Sgt. Steve Walpole, about the back-to-school time.

“The police department and the school districts also have had a long-standing partnership to ensure 10 high-use intersections are manned by crossing guards,” he added.

There is always a safety concern when you mix pedestrians and vehicles in the same intersections, Walpole insists. “As a driver, you are legally required to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk,” said Walpole, citing California Vehicle Code 21950. “But it’s just as important for pedestrians to remember to use due care for their safety when crossing the street, also.”

Failing to adhere to school-zone speed limits of 25 miles per hour, blocking roadways, making illegal U-turns and failure to obey traffic signs could land you with a hefty ticket or, worse, an injured child, officials warn.

According to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, in 2009, an estimated 59,000 pedestrians were injured; 13,000 of those injured were age 14 and younger, and boys accounted for 55 percent, or 7,000, of those 13,000 hurt. The NHTSA finds that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 3 to 14 years old.

Drivers should pay attention when driving on all roads, but more than ever when city streets are flooded with walkers. Morning drive times from 7:30-9 a.m. are especially significant, as well as the after-school times of 2:30 p.m. through dusk.

And more than ever, drivers should avoid being distracted from the act of driving, Walpole says. “We have had a number of distracted driving over the years due to people texting on their cell phones while driving.”

Walpole said the four most congested intersections in the Los Gatos are near (Daves Avenue at Poppy Lane), (Blossom Hill and Roberts East), (East Main Street at Jackson) and (Nino Avenue at Los Gatos Boulevard).

Police have maintained safety in those congested areas by using crossing guards and citizens who are part of the Department of Transportation’s “Safe Routes to School” program.

Safe Routes to School is an international program designed to examine conditions around schools and determine ways to improve safety and accessibility and reduce traffic congestion and air pollution around schools by encouraging children to walk to school.

Parents should also talk to their children before ushering them out the door. Officials warn that elementary schoolchildren are impulsive and still need guidance and supervision when playing and walking near traffic. Kids can’t estimate speed and are just learning to read, in many cases, so it's imperative that parents take the time to talk to their children about the rules of the road and of sidewalks, too.
Here are a few tips the NHTSA shares with parents: 

When walking:

  • Walk on the sidewalk, if one is available.
  • Walk facing traffic, if no sidewalk is available.
  • Don’t assume vehicles will stop. Make eye contact with drivers.
  • Don’t rely solely on pedestrian signals; look before you cross the road.
  • Be sure to let a crossing guard know that you are waiting to cross the street.

When crossing the street:

  • Cross at a corner or crosswalk with the walk signal.
  • Stop at the curb.
  • Exaggerate looking LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT for traffic in all directions before and while crossing the street. Explain to the child that they are looking for either no traffic or that traffic has stopped for you to cross safely.
  • Hold your child’s hand when crossing the street.
  • Cross when it is clear but keep looking for cars as you cross.
  • Walk, don’t run or dart, into the street.
  • Look for signs that a car is about to move (rear lights, exhaust smoke, sound of motor, wheels turning).
  • Walk alertly; use your eyes and your ears to increase your safety.

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