COAST CITIES — Crossing guards and school bus drivers are back to work and traffic backing up near schools is also back as the new school year marks the end of summer and the beginning of busier streets.
Dropping off and picking up kids from school can be a challenge for parents and caretakers as school driveways must accommodate both cars and kids.
Local police agencies remind motorists of the 25 mph speed limit in school zones and to practice safe driving in the school parking lots.
“It’s always more difficult at the beginning of the school year,” said Lt. Marc Reno of the Carlsbad Police Department.
He said that the department assigns officers to the city’s school areas who monitor the school traffic for violations such as parents pulling up next to red curbs or double parking.
Reno said the main complaint from traffic officers is that parents drive in the school traffic while talking on their cell phones.
“Parents should stay off cell phones,” Reno said.
He said it’s difficult to pay attention, drive the speed limit and talk on a cell phone at the same time.
Allstate Insurance Company recently released a survey to remind drivers they can avoid a pricey ticket if they follow the laws in the school zone, said Jim Klapthor, spokesman for a Los Angeles-based Allstate Co.
“We contacted superior courts in 26 counties around the state with regard to the start of school,” he said.
The survey included the average price of a citation for exceeding the posted speed limit by 10 mph or more in a school zone.
“In San Diego County, the price that a driver could expect to pay, i.e. the total bail, is $221,” Klapthor said.
One local principal hands out her own tickets to parents who break the parking lot rules.
Kimberly Huesing, principal of Aviara Oaks Elementary School in Carlsbad, said that she recently began giving tickets to parents for acts such as leaving their cars unattended, which can cause a backup in traffic.
The tickets are colorful paper squares and are her latest effort to remind parents of the parking lot safety rules.
Kris Kameya has two children who have been attending Aviara Oaks for the past four years and said she has seen improvement in the parking lot.
“The principal has set it up so that nobody can stop anymore,” she said.
Kameya said the recent ticket implementation was a good idea because the parking lot traffic creates a hazard because kids walk through it.
But before her approach of issuing tickets, Huesing said she worked with the PTA to develop a parking lot pledge.
“The children and parents signed it,” she said.
The pledge has simple rules to follow that agree to end unsafe driving practices while on campus.
At La Costa Meadows Elementary School in Carlsbad, Principal Jennifer Carter formed a parking lot committee.
It encompasses separating the traffic zones into two groups by last names.
Those beginning with the letters A to L go to the “Mainland,” and M to Z goes to the “Island,” Carter said.
The children are instructed to sit in those designated areas and aren’t allowed to run around.
“We’ve had parking lot assemblies and taught the kids where to wait and how to sit,” she said.
Now in her fourth year as an administrator, the parking lot issues are under control, she said.
“My first year here as a principal, there was no system and four lanes (of traffic),” she said. “Kids would jump in cars and it was not very safe. It was kind of chaotic, I would say.”
At Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary, which is in the Encinitas Union School District, the direction of the parking lot was recently changed to allow for a slow pattern of traffic flow, Reno said.
“Slow patterns work for everybody,” Reno said.
He also reminds parents that crossing guards do not direct traffic.
Bus drivers do not direct traffic either, and although most North County buses that transport children have become a thing of the past, except for special needs children and events such as field trips bus, Vista has regular bus routes still in place for its students.
Cindy Martinez is a driver instructor trainer for the Vista Unified School District and said that some bus routes only have two stops.
“We have a lot (of stops) that have 45 to 50 kids getting off at one bus stop,” she said.
Bus drivers aren’t allowed to use hand signals to wave to the kids if they dash away and don’t follow safety rules, because a driver in a vehicle might think the hand signal is waving to them to pass, she said.
Which is why it’s important for cars to pay attention to the flashing red lights.
Martinez said the No. 1 complaint from bus drivers is that motorists don’t always stop for the flashing red lights on the bus.
She said some buses are also equipped with the stop-arm that extends out when a bus is stopped.
“When that’s out, if someone drives by in a big truck, they will hit it,” she said.
The law requires the driver of any vehicle to stop immediately before passing a school bus displaying flashing red lights and, if equipped, a stop signal arm.
The only time it’s not required for a driver to stop upon meeting or passing a school bus with flashing lights, is when the driver is on the other side of a divided highway or multi-lane road.
The recent Allstate survey found that the average cost of a ticket for a first time violator in the county who passes a school bus with its safety lights on or stop-arm extended is $666.
The Department of Motor Vehicle 2010 Handbook also states that violators of this law could have their driving privileges suspended for up to one year.
A fact sheet from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that an average of seven school-age passengers are killed in school bus crashes each year but 19 are killed getting on and off the bus.
Most of those killed are children, 5 to 7 years old. They are hit in the danger zone around the bus, either by a passing vehicle or by the school bus itself. It is illegal for a vehicle to pass a bus with its red lights flashing.