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New school year means increased driving safety

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- It's the start of the school year, the time when pencils, books and teachers once again become part children's lives. But it's also the time when the roadways yet again become full of buses, bicycles and crosswalk guards.

School in the Lompoc and Santa Maria school districts begins Aug. XX, and both adults and children need to remember a few safety rules when traveling in the morning and afternoon.

"The kids will be everywhere," said Bryan Eiler, 30th Space Wing ground safety manager. "And there's going to be a lot of morning and afternoon traffic."

Drivers will need to increase their vigilance when driving during school transportation hours. Children will be on foot, as well as on bicycles or scooters. Even though the students may know to stay on the sidewalks or bike paths, some may dart out in the street.

"Kids will be kids," Mr. Eiler said. "Drive the speed limit and be really aware. Or, if you know the school route ... I would suggest taking another route."

An alternate route would be safer for both the children and the driver, as well as allow the driver to move at the posted speed instead of having to stop or slow more often, he said. Vandenberg hot spots to avoid before and after school are the roads near the Youth Center and near Crestview Elementary School.

Some of the drivers can't avoid these areas; the parents driving their children to school. These drivers have some extra work to do.

"I have three little ones, and I know it's hard (driving them to school)," Mr. Eiler said. "But parents need to make sure they focus on the road, too."

Parents should also focus on the rules of their schools parking lots and drop off zones. Prolonged stopping in a drop off zone could cause traffic issues for other drivers, as traffic could back up to the road, the ground safety manager said. With the traffic congested, this could be a hazard to children as well. Parents should pull in, drop off their children and drive on. If extra time is needed, the parent should pull into the parking lot.

Other children may take the bus school. School buses may frustrate some drivers, with frequent stops and slower driving, but laws are in place to protect the children.

"When the bus stop sign is out for loading or unloading, never pass," Mr. Eiler said. "Stop and stay behind the vehicle."

If a driver does get to an area where it is safe to pass the bus, the driver should wait until the bus is completely moving before attempting to do so.

"It's a good idea to wait until the bus takes off before you pass, because the bus waits on children to get down the street or into school," Mr. Eiler said. "A safe bet is to wait for the bus to depart because then you know the kids are clear."

While drivers need to remain focused and aware, children, too, should be vigilant when walking to school or the bus stop. According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, 25,000 children pedestrians each year are injured by motor vehicles.

"I teach my kids about cars: if the car hits you it's going to hurt you really bad," Mr. Eiler said. "Cars aren't going to always see you, and when they do it might be too late. There's no way to replace you."

Parents first should teach their kids about properly using sidewalks and marked crosswalks, preferably with a school crossing guard, he said. They should also teach them how to cross the street: look left, then right, then left, and make sure the cars stop before you cross.

The biggest thing parents should do is walk with their children to school for at least the first few days, the ground safety manager added. This way the parents can ensure their children are taking a safe route and they can teach their children along the way.

With the school year just days away, now is the time start preparing for driving and walking with extra caution. Lives depend on it.

"It could be my kids or it could be your kids," Mr. Eiler said. "(An accident) is not the way to start off your day."

For more information on school traffic safety, go to the International Walk to School in the U.S.A. Web site at www.walktoschool.org/why/safety.cfm.