Last week in Attleboro, a young boy on his bicycle set out on his usual morning route to school. Tragically, he became a fatality as he was struck down by a motor vehicle as he neared school.
Within days, a sixth-grader in Brockton who was walking to school was hit by an auto in the middle of a clearly delineated crosswalk in a school zone. Although this young man survived his accident, he was seriously injured as he was thrown up over the hood of the vehicle.
In Attleboro, reports are that the tragedy prompted a heretofore absent police presence to appear the next day along the school route. In Brockton, the call has gone out for the return of crossing guards.
Please can someone in public safety and/or school officialdom from the top of state government down to the local powers and decision-makers explain to us why school-zone traffic and side-street safety doesn’t warrant the same (or some say higher) priority and mandate as the public safety out on the state highways or local roads of our communities. Interruption of the traffic flow on these byways for maintenance, construction or any other adjacent site work warrants a police detail – or at least a flag person in some newly defined areas.
The congestion within school zones for 90 minutes both in the morning and afternoon for 180 days a year is enormous and creates multiple daily risks and hazards — in some communities more so than others, but evident in all. Some school zones have multiple schools and staggered start times, which minimizes the crunch, but extends the time of concern and worry. School busses are challenged by traffic from parents transporting children, employees and student drivers and all the traffic competes with children walking, skateboarding or bicycling. This is all in addition to normal traffic, where in some areas it is quite heavy with early morning commuters.
It’s enough of a safety concern that this impact occurs at all, but then you have the instances whereby drivers and/or pedestrians lose their common sense or sense of caution to create serious dangers. In places like Washington Street in Ayer, Rte. 2A in Lunenburg and Rte. 119 in Townsend and Groton, which have school zone areas, often there are additional emergency medical service vehicles needing unimpeded access to the local hospital.
Speed signs, flashing warming signals and crosswalk painting all can serve as reminders or warnings to school traffic, but the true deterrent to violations and the most positive ingredient to a pro-active enforcement of public safety is an assigned school zone police officer.
This writer has observed through car travel up and down the East Coast (especially in rural areas of the Carolinas, Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania) the very strict enforcement of school zone safety. Police visibility is augmented (word of the week) by bright and extensive marking on the roads signifying a school zone and/or multiple signage and warning lights. The reputation of strict enforcement is evident by the tapping of brake lights at the first sign apprising you of an impending school zone. Public service announcements on local cable television serve notice of the severe fines and penalties for those who transgress.
All too often a preventable tragedy or fatality results in belated legislation or attention in memory of a victim. We should pass a mandatory school public safety officer law (with even broader responsibilities than just traffic safety) out of concern for all our children. And, please, don’t use lack of funds as a reason (excuse) not to — that would be to suggest that there is something more important as a public safety issue in our towns. Of course, legislation from the state is unnecessary if local powers can enact their own initiative to provide more safety and police visibility in our school areas.
“Children are our most valuable natural resource — protect them.”
— Herbert Hoover
Tom Casey is a retired high school administrator. In retirement he has served as a school administrative mentor, consultant to public and charter schools, and in school-to-career programs. He has also served in various interim administrative positions.