The ads that have been on TV for the past month are finally a reality: back to school is, well…back. After a summer of quiet streets and deserted playgrounds, the swarm of traffic and pedestrians are out in full force. Pretty soon this will all start to feel normal, but in the meantime it's important to drive with extra vigilance - especially in school zones.
Whether you're walking, biking, or driving to school, you're facing all the crowds of rush hour combined with the unpredictable nature of several hundred excited children. It's a no-brainer to be careful, but when it seems like every parent and child in the world has descended upon your neighborhood, some basic reflexes can slip your mind like homework out of a backpack.
Don't let the back-to-school pandemonium throw you off your guard. Here are some quick pointers to help fend off the stress of September school runs.
Proper planning isn't just a good idea for summer road trips, it can also reduce the stress of school mornings. Get lunches ready and bags packed the night before and know when you need to be out the door, so that you have no distractions when you get into the car.
Knowing your route is also helpful - there's nothing worse than being caught off guard by construction on the first day of school.
Watch for School Zone Signs
It seems like schools shoot up out of the ground every September - surely there weren't this many here last year? Keep your eyes out for the big yellow signs so that you're never caught off-guard, and choose an alternate route if possible. Traffic is going to be at a standstill, so you'll be safer and happier if you take the path less travelled.
Many school zones have reduced speed limits during school hours. On a main street, this is often signified by the typical “Speed limit reduced when lights are flashing” sign, while on many side streets there may just be a road sign that lists an alternate speed limit for certain times of day. Whether you see signage or not, it's still safer to slow down until you're out of the school zone.
Drive Like it's Your First Driving Test
Remember how cautious you were on your very first road test? You shut off your internal autopilot, and drove like you had the driver's handbook tattooed on the back of your hands. When you end up in a school zone, that's how you should conduct yourself. Come to a complete stop at stop signs, and go out of your way to yield to pedestrians. This goes for cyclists as well - you might feel safe rolling through stop signs or biking on the sidewalk, but school zones aren't the place to take chances.
Even when you're stopped, you can still pose a hazard. When in doubt, imagine what would happen if everyone did what you are about to do. Stopping for even a few seconds in a “no stopping” zone can quickly bring traffic to a standstill, and parking illegally can reduce traffic flow and pedestrian visibility. When most of the foot-traffic is people under five feet tall, a car in the wrong place can make for an unsafe situation.
How many kids could fit in your car? Even in a subcompact, you can probably still transport three kids safely. If you've got any empty seats during the school run, why not carpool? It's the ultimate win/win: for no additional cost or effort, you can divide the driving time among two or more people. As a side-effect, you reduce the number of cars zipping around the school zone, and the amount of money spent on gas. You'll help reduce emissions as well, which can help keep the smog away from developing lungs.
Drive with the Flow
Certain maneuvers might be perfectly legal, but can become dangerous or obtrusive during the school run. Three-point-turns are an example of an action that can block traffic, and pose a risk to pedestrians and drivers alike. Likewise, while you won't get a ticket for letting passengers out of both sides of your car, it's safer if everyone exits from the passenger side.
Remember the Fines
Police officers are often out in full force for the first few weeks of school, just to make sure drivers haven't forgotten the basics. In particular, officers will be watching for drivers who disobey “no stopping” and “no parking” signs, or who drive dangerously around intersections and crosswalks. And remember, fines may be doubled in and around school zones - that $400 fine for passing a school bus is suddenly an $800 mistake.
Traffic is going to be slow, and people will behave unpredictably. Just focus on being as safe and predictable as possible, and you'll be home before you know it. This goes for pedestrians and cyclists as well. At crosswalks, for instance, make eye contact with drivers and wait until they have reached a complete stop before stepping into the street. It takes a couple extra seconds, but you'll be safer for it.
Car troubles should be the least of your concerns when you've got half the neighborhood packed into the back of your vehicle. Dashboard warnings such as the notorious “check engine” light are easy to ignore, but they're just as easy to fix with our state of the art diagnostics.
Schedule your appointment today at your nearest location.