It’s the last long weekend of the summer, which means, among other things, that our driving scene is about to change in a big way.
As for every long weekend, you can expect the regular police crackdowns on dangerous driving all through the weekend. Everyone wants to get that last summer fun in before fall shows up, but safety should still be your first concern.
The biggest change comes right after this long weekend when the kids head back to school. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s easy to slip into new habits and forget the old ones. (Just look at winter driving: on that first heavy snowfall, many drivers act like they’ve never seen snow before.)
Roads and highways will be busier than in past summer months as teachers and students return to class, and children will be crossing roadways up to four times a day on their way to and from school. Buses will be rolling up by the thousands again and parents will be dropping off their young ones at school.
Here’s a reminder on what to expect to help make your commuting easier and our roads safer for motorists and our children:
1. Be prepared for a longer commute. Leave 10 minutes earlier instead of rushing and getting frustrated with the inevitable added congestion that will be on our roads. It will reduce the risk as well as the stress.
2. Be patient with school buses. All drivers need to be aware of their presence and the regulations when encountering them. Among them will be newly trained bus drivers who are bound to be nervous and distracted.
3. Obey the school bus rules. Section 175 of the Highway Traffic Act incorporates severe penalties for motorists who do not obey the rules. It is very specific on what drivers must do when approaching a school bus when it has its red lights flashing.
Here is what this section says motorists must do: Traffic travelling on undivided roads in both directions must stop when the overhead red signal lights are flashing on a school bus. They may not proceed until the red lights have stopped flashing.
Drivers approaching the front of the bus must stop before reaching the bus and allow plenty of room for students to cross the road in front of the bus.
When approaching from the rear, drivers must stop at least 20m behind the bus and they cannot proceed until the lights have stopped flashing. If the road is divided by a median, only traffic on the same side of the road as the bus must stop.
In some cases, the students may have to cross the road in front of the school bus. The bus will remain stopped with the overhead lights flashing until the children have safely crossed the road.
The punishment for failing to stop will range from $400 for the first offence up to $4,000 and/or imprisonment for subsequent infractions.
Children are unpredictable. Drivers should watch carefully that the children are a safe distance from the bus before proceeding. It is not unheard of that a child has run back across the road to the bus as it was leaving.
4. Watch for novice drivers. Many students worked at earning their driver’s licence over the summer holidays and may be driving alone for the first time. Some will have their own vehicles while others may have access to mom or dad’s. We will be sharing the road with these inexperienced drivers and need to keep an eye open for them and be patient
5. Use extra care in school zones. Motorists need to be alert to and pay extra attention particularly in school zones as students walk to and from school. Drivers need to watch for children running out between parked cars and crossing roads while chatting and socializing. With many of these students preoccupied with talking with old friends or making new friends, traffic is not high on their priority list.
Tragically, students can be so involved in their “texting” that they forget to watch for traffic or signals. If you encounter a youngster with their hands busily typing and their heads looking down, expect anything to happen and prepare for the worst.
Teenagers and youngsters will be on skateboards, roller blades or other wheeled devices and they may not always be in complete control. Always use caution when you see children on any mechanical apparatus, give them plenty of room and expect them to lose control
6. Watch for cyclists. More cyclists will be on our streets as students use the most convenient or least expensive means of getting to and from school. We must share the road with cyclists and give them plenty of space. Cyclists also need to respect bigger vehicles and conform to the rules of the road like any other vehicle.
Every motorist and trucker needs to focus on their driving, slow down, watch for children and take it easy, especially in school zones.
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