A Walton County high school student died after being hit by three cars in front of his school Tuesday morning, according to the Associated Press. Georgia State Patrol officials said the teen fell off a skateboard and was hit when he went to retrieve it, the AP reported.
The teen’s death is a heart-rending reminder of just how unsafe roads can become during the school year. School buses also are back on the roadways, so it’s a good time for students and parents to review safety concerns.
Deputy Jack Redlinger with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office traffic unit routinely patrols around schools in the county during mornings and afternoons. Redlinger said one thing he has noticed is that parents are not around when their children go to and from school.
He said while on patrol at Veterans Memorial Middle School and West Newton Elementary School on Brown Bridge Road, he notices that children do not walk in the crosswalks and students sometimes “dart out across the roadway.”
“If they do run out in the crosswalk, it’s going to be their fault if they get hit,” Redlinger said.
He added that motorists also don’t stop when students are waiting to cross the street.
“I mean, someone will eventually. But you know 10 cars will drive by before someone decides to stop and let those kids across,” he said. “If I’m out there, you know I’ll turn on my blue lights and I’ll block the road … and let the kids across the road. But you know it’s that way everywhere.”
Redlinger said there used to be a time when parents drilled their children about crossing roadways safely.
“I think nowadays a lot of parents take it for granted that their kids already know, and they don’t tell them. But you know, I just don’t think young kids should be walking to school by themselves,” he said.
“A lot of these kids also take it for granted that if they are standing there or that if they step out there, (in the street), the car is going to stop. And a lot of people just don’t pay attention because they are too busy talking on their phones and texting.”
As for school bus safety, Redlinger explained that motorists should always use caution when driving near school buses. If they don’t, there’s now the risk of a citation. In March 2012, the Newton County Board of Education voted to allow American Traffic Solutions to execute an interagency agreement with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office to review all violations caught on tape. In the past, Newton County’s school bus drivers have had to try to write down tag numbers of unsafe drivers, which Redlinger said they were rarely able to do.
But with this technology, a camera captures video and photos of drivers who violate school bus warning signals. The penalties are $300 for the first offense, $750 for the second and $1,000 for the third within a five-year period. The violations will go to the registered owner of the vehicle cited.
Charles Territo, with ATS, said stop-arm cameras were installed on about 10 percent to 12 percent of Newton County school buses in August 2012. And a year later, Deputy Redlinger said the system is working “really good.”
“We probably get anywhere from 10 to 20 violations a day … an average of 60 citations per week,” Redlinger said as he demonstrated how the system works.
“As soon as that stop sign (on the side of the school bus) goes out, it starts recording and taking pictures,” he said. “Every day, we look at these videos. And we either approve them or reject them.”
“What we will do is, we’ll hit accept and now, they are going to get a letter in the mail stating that they ran a stop sign and if they want to argue it, they will come to court,” Redlinger said.
“I don’t know why people think they can just go right on through them, but they do,” he said. “Before, we had no evidence; all we had was that paperwork that (bus drivers) filled out, but now we have this system. … Now we have evidence, with pictures and video.”
Redlinger said in general, students need to be educated about traffic and school bus safety.
“We as parents need to make sure our kids are safe.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers safety tips for students riding the school bus:
Tips for students
• Wait until the school bus driver says it is safe to board. Then get on the bus one at a time.
• Once you’re off the school bus, walk five giant steps from the front of the bus, cross in front of the bus when the driver indicates it is safe, stop at the edge of the bus – look left-right-left again for traffic, and if there’s no traffic, cross the street.
• Ask the driver for help if you drop something while getting on or off the school bus.
• Keep your loose items inside your backpack or book bag.
• Once on the school bus, go directly to your seat and sit down facing forward. Remain in your seat facing forward when the school bus is moving.
• Be respectful of the school bus driver, and always obey his or her instructions.
Tips for parents
• If your children ride the school bus, walk with them to the bus stop and wait with them until they get on the school bus.
• Children need to be especially careful around the school bus “danger zone,” which is the 10 feet in front, behind and on each side of the school bus.
• Tell children to use the handrails when they get on and off the school bus, and be careful of drawstrings and bookbag straps that could get caught in the handrails and doors.
• When driving in neighborhoods and school zones, watch out for young people who may be distracted and not thinking about safety.
• Slow down. Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
• Be alert. Children arriving late for the school bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
For more information on school bus safety, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website at nhtsa.gov. Bus safety procedures and rules for the Newton County School System can be found by viewing page 8 and 9 of each of the elementary and secondary student handbooks, which can also be found online at newtoncountyschools.org/publications/school-handbooks.aspx.