By Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski
Summer vacations have ended. Students across the country are returning to the classroom and with schools reopening, traffic patterns are changing.
School buses are back on the road in force, parents are driving children to and from school and pedestrian traffic in school zones has increased. For all these reasons, the start of the new school year is an important time to remind ourselves and our children about the rules of the road.
For drivers, the changes in traffic patterns that occur as the school year starts often result in longer commuting times. Speed limits may be lower and traffic volume higher in areas around schools.
Drivers need to leave themselves more time to get where they are going so that they are not stressed and tempted to rush by the prospect of a late arrival at their destination.
The increase in school bus traffic is another factor that needs to be figured into your commuting time to ensure traffic safety. New Jersey law requires drivers on both sides of a road or two-lane highway that is not divided by some type of barrier to stop at least 25 feet from a stopped school bus with flashing red lights.
Drivers are to remain stopped until the red lights have been turned off and any de-boarding students are safely on the side of the road. On a divided highway, cars on the same side of the highway as the bus must follow these same rules.
For drivers approaching a stopped school bus that is picking up or letting off students on the opposite side of a divided highway, state law requires a driver to slow down to 10 miles per hour or less and maintain that speed until completely past the bus.
The 10 mile-per-hour restriction is also in effect when a stopped school bus is discharging its passengers at a school, day camp or any school-related activity that is on the same side of the road as the bus.
In addition to the rules for school bus safety, drivers also need to follow the standard traffic regulations that are always in effect. These include observing speed restrictions, stopping and looking both ways before turning right on a red light, stopping for pedestrians in a crosswalk and following the directions of school crossing guards.
Parents should also discuss traffic safety issues with young school children and review with them the best route to and from a school or school bus stop.
Children should be taught the meaning and importance of traffic signals. They should also understand and respect the role of police, crossing guards and safety patrols; know to stop, look and listen before crossing unguarded streets, and to cross at traffic lights or in crosswalks and not from between cars or in the middle of the street.
Most important, parents should follow these same rules and lead by example. No child will take seriously the safety lessons you want to impart if they don’t see you doing the same.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 3 to 14 years old. Reviewing and reinforcing driver and pedestrian safety at this time of year can, literally, save a life. Share this information with friends and family members and let’s make sure our children and our communities enjoy a safe school year.
Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski is Chairman of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee. He’s a Democrat who represents the 19th Legislative District in Middlesex County.