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Drivers asked to be cautious in school zones

school zoneBy Rebecca Herman

With winter weather comes school cancelations and delays, and with several more weeks of winter left this year, concerns have been raised about traffic safety in school zones.
The school zone signals are programmed to flash from 7:45 am to 8:15 am and then again from 3:00 pm to 3:30 pm. These times give students a window to safely enter or exit school buildings. However, the system is not set up to include special circumstances, such as two-hour delays or early dismissals. When there are no flashing lights, many drivers continue at normal speed which can be hazardous to the drivers who are entering and exiting from the school parking lots.
Many drivers want to know what can be done to make two-hour delays safer for drivers and children who walk to school. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.
One may simply suggest turning on the school zone lights for a delay or early dismissal. However, this process is quite time consuming. According to Barry Bishop, Johnson County Schools Transportation Supervisor, he would have to go to each pole at every school and program the new times. Once the delay or early dismissal was over, Bishop would have to go back to each pole and reset the times to run on the regular time schedule; this process would take over two hours for each programming.
Others have suggested posting police officers at each school during these times. However, if the lights in the school zone are not flashing, then drivers are not breaking any state laws when driving the posted speed limit.
Bishop suggests that drivers take extra care when driving in a school zone during these schedule changes.
“You can’t make people slow down,” said Bishop.
Another area of concern is safety when driving in the proximity of school buses. More accidents occur every year due to drivers failing to stop for school buses. The latest data from the State of Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security states, “An average of six school-age passengers are fatally injured inside school buses each year, but an average of 16 are killed getting on and off the bus.”
Drivers should know that yellow flashing lights on a bus indicate the bus is preparing to stop in order to pick up or drop off students; therefore, cars need to slow down and come to a complete stop. Once the bus is in motion, cars can begin driving again.
Once the bus driver has activated the red flashing lights and stop signal, it is illegal for drivers to pass the stopped school bus. Vehicles behind the bus and those traveling in the opposite direction are required to stop unless on a divided highway.
These laws are in place to protect children in order to prevent tragedies from occurring. All drivers should be mindful and expect the unexpected in school zones at all times.