COL Time for cautious driving

Children are at risk when we drive through school zones

Road construction holds no candle to the chaos that accompanies the early-morning gush of school children heading to their first days of class.

More than 16,000 students are enrolled in Rochester schools. Of that number about 8,500 are elementary students. They are so very young.

Students, particularly of elementary age, are seldom aware of their frailty. They're intent on following through with their parents and teachers wishes. "Off to school, now, and have fun."

They can so easily dart into traffic. The result? Pain beyond description, physical for the young person, excruciating for the family, but tragic for the driver as well.


It's up to all of us to back off the gas and pay special attention to the task at hand when we drive through school zones. This is true at any time but so much more so at the start of a new school year.

Jeff Kappers is the transportation manager for the Rochester school district. With the first day of school under his belt, he said things went "pretty well." That's good news, this year especially. Construction in and around U.S. 52 had the potential to push parents, bus drivers and everyday drivers to their limits of patience.

In Rochester, about 10,600 students hopped a ride to school on a bus. Kappers said there were a couple of "wrenches" the district wasn't aware of, like 18th Avenue being closed, but fast planning overcame that problem.

Kappers said the word got out to parents and everybody worked around the adjustments. Nice job.

Buses need a special mention when a new school year has young students shooting from them like atoms from a particle accelerator. Yellow flashing lights mean the bus is preparing to stop. This is not a signal to hurry and get around the bus. Flashing red lights and an extended stop arm mean the bus doors are open and children are on the ground and running. In other words, flashing reds and stop arms mean drivers need to stop and wait for the bus to move on.

According to Kappers, the number of citations each year for ignoring the lights and stop arm run between five and 10. The fines won't break the bank, but the embarrassment for being pulled over for putting children at risk should be enough to keep even the most anxious driver in check.

Kappers also wanted drivers to remember that not all students are bus riders or given rides by guardians. Students who live within a mile and a quarter of schools are not eligible for bus service, and many of them walk to school. "It's especially important for drivers to watch for the young students walking to school," Kappers said.

Public safety appeals have done a good job exhorting drivers to slow down in construction zones, Rochester's U.S. 52, for example. The threatened fines for drivers who stray from safe and posted speed limits do work to improve safety in the orange-outlined stretches of concrete and asphalt. So, too, do the fines for driving around a flashing red light on a school bus.


Yet, fines only follow the work of police, and they are often stretched thin. There are many more miles of roads under restoration than under the watchful eyes of troopers or police.

There is something more that helps keep construction zones reasonably safe for workers and drivers alike -- common sense and courtesy. The same needs to be applied in school zones. It is, after all, that time of the year.

Tuesday, on the heels of an opening day tour of district schools, likely his busiest day of the year, Jerry Williams, Rochester's superintendent of schools, said it best. "Children don't always look before they run. It's up to adult drivers to pay attention."

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