Back-to-school safety reminder: slow down

Well, if you needed a reminder that summer is rapidly coming to a close, just take a quick glance at your calendar. Yep, Labor Day weekend just came and went faster than the Road Runner chasing down Wile E. Coyote.

Labor Day has always signaled the unofficial end to summer and the start to something else: a new school year.

This week marks the beginning of the 2008-09 school year in Polk County. And with it comes a strong reminder to be on the lookout for students and to slow down while driving.

With the price of gas just under $4 a gallon, Oregon Department of Transportation officials expect more students to be walking and bicycling to and from school this year than in the recent past. The key to safe driving with all of these children and teenagers out and about is awareness.

Kids walking and those riding bikes are crowding area streets and sidewalks. Be on the lookout. Take school zone signs and crossings to heart. In school zones, the speed limit is 20 mph. Flashing lights may alert you that you are in a school zone, but if there are no flashing lights the 20 mph speed limit is in effect from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on days when school is in session.

Make sure to watch for flashing lights and stop for school buses and crossing guards. Always yield to pedestrians at intersections and crosswalks. Be careful for children who run out into the street or a parking lot from between parked cars. While all of this seems so basic, police officers, school bus drivers and crossing guards often have horror stories about near misses or worse involving kids and cars.

"Motorists must pay attention to the task at hand, and that means slowing down in school zones and watching for children and bicyclists," stresses Julie Yip, Safe Routes to School program manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation. "Younger children aren't able to judge speed and distance as well as adults can, so it's the responsibility of the driver to be alert."

Two web sites that ODOT recommends for learning more about teaching traffic rules to younger children and identifying safe routes to school are www.saferoutesinfo.org and www.walknbike.org.

Back-to-school time is the perfect time to remind drivers to be alert and mindful of children and teenagers making their way to and from school. There can never be too many reminders to do the most important thing: slow down.


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