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Commentary: Drive slow, use extra caution around school zones

The new school year is back in full swing and no doubt you've already noticed there's more activity in the streets during the morning rush to work and the afternoon drive home; yellow buses all over town. The weather is still nice which means more kids are riding bike, on foot, and on skateboards and scooters.

So here's what unfortunately has to be an annual (if not more frequent) reminder to put down the cellphone when driving, to be extra vigilant about safety, to remain hyper alert to kids anywhere and everywhere, and to be prepared for anything. Tragedy is one distraction away. It can happen at any moment.

"It's never more important for drivers to slow down and pay attention than when kids are present — especially before and after school," the National Safety Council has posted at its website, nsc.org.

If you're dropping children off at school, be sure to know the procedures. More children are hit by cars near schools than anywhere else, according to the National Safe Routes to School program.

Also, motorists, don't double park at schools; it blocks children's and others' visibility, the National Safety Council pointed out.

This reminder is particularly important at our local schools where too many parents treat the drop off/pick up lane as a place to park. This adds to the congestion and confusion before and after school lets out. It also creates an additional hazard to children walking across the loop.

Don't block crosswalks, forcing school kids and other pedestrians to unsafely have to go around you. Pay extra attention to stop at crosswalks around the school to allow children to safely cross the street.

Be especially watchful in school zones, near playgrounds and parks, and in residential areas. Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians. Never pass a bus stopped to load or unload children. Stop for buses with yellow or red lights flashing and with stop arms extended.

Stop far enough back from buses to allow children space to safely enter and exit. And remember always that children can be unpredictable and tend to ignore hazards and take risks.

Above all else, drivers, slow down.

Staying safe is as much on kids as it is the responsibility of motorists and other adults, of course. So, students, always be wary of vehicles and always look left-right-left before crossing a street.

As ingrained as that may be, it's a practice ignored with amazing frequency and with sometimes-heartbreaking results.

Also, children, never talk to strangers or accept rides from someone unknown. Get to your bus stop early and stand a safe distance away from the curb. Board the bus only after it has come to a complete stop and the driver has instructed you. Only board your own bus.

Always stay in clear view of the driver. Never walk behind the bus. Cross streets at corners, obeying traffic signals and staying in the crosswalk. Never dart out from between parked cars.

Any student who rides a bike to school can remember to always wear a helmet and to ride in the same direction as traffic. And that left-right-left? That applies to bicyclists, too. So do traffic laws.

Put safety at the top of the list.

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