My wife has provided in-home day care for Oregon children for almost 30 years. It is my responsibility to walk her first-grader to and from Prairie View Elementary every school day.
I treasure these moments with this child, but I have very troubling news to report. Some motorists are driving through the crosswalks we use – when crossing guards are already in them.
It’s high time Oregon got a lot more serious about school crossing safety. And not just village government, either. The rest of us need to drive affectionately, as though every person on the other side of the windshield is someone we love.
Our experiences are typical of the reckless driving that crossing guards and parents of walking children report elsewhere.
School is only three blocks away for us, and we are very grateful for the three crossing guards who shepherd us along our way. But the crossings are quite busy, mainly because they are the same ones used by the hundreds of parents who drive their children to Prairie View and Netherwood Knoll every day.
I witnessed two dangerous incidents a few weeks ago.
In one case, the crossing guard had entered the Main Street/Lincoln Street crosswalk well before a northbound motorist was approaching. The guard was near the center of the street when the vehicle breezed right through. I think the driver saw the guard, but apparently it didn’t occur to her that she was obliged to stop.
In another case, a westbound motorist on Lincoln who was turning left onto Main narrowly missed hitting the crossing guard who was standing in the crosswalk. It all happened very quickly, but my impression was that this driver didn’t see the guard until she was almost on top of him.
Neither of these motorists bothered to stop and apologize. They had their windows rolled up and were deaf to our complaints. (We all need to remember that to get into a car is to choose a form of deafness.)
Of course these reckless drivers had the advantage of being able to quickly escape from the pedestrian whose life they had just put at risk. The deck is always stacked heavily against the person who isn’t in a car.
I wasn’t present during a third crossing violation at Lincoln and Soden the prior week, but the guard and an adult witness say it was a close call.
The crossing guards were wearing a bright yellow safety vest and holding up a stop sign. The crossing are clearly marked with signposts and paint stripes. Lack of infrastructure was not the problem, so adding signage to school crossings elsewhere won’t address what is, in fact, a deadly serious behavioral problem.
It’s tempting for those of us who drive to excuse or trivialize the risky behaviors of other motorists. After all, we know we aren’t perfect, either. But whether we sugarcoat it with words like distracted or “in a rush,” or admit it is downright pushy, they all add up to threats to life and limb.
Reckless driving – whether intentional or not – is made all the worse by a lack of rigorous enforcement. It festers and grows when motorists who behave badly learn they can get away with it.
All three of the above violations were reported to the Oregon Police Department. We had vehicle descriptions and partial license numbers in two cases, and the third was iffy. I believe the police followed up to the best of their ability, but no motorist was apprehended as a result.
Let’s get real. It’s absurd to expect crossing guards – or the adult guardians of children who walk – to do the lion’s share of monitoring at school crosswalks. Our top priority must be to keep children safe at the very moment they are being threatened.
Oregon can’t afford to post police officers at all school crossings every school day morning and afternoon. And we know it isn’t effective to post a few officers at a few crossings every now and then. Reckless motorists tend to behave when they see the police, but quickly revert to pattern when they think they aren’t being watched.
The best way to catch reckless drivers is to put up some traffic monitoring cameras – ones with enough resolution to capture license numbers. Then when guards and pedestrians report incidents, law enforcement will have the evidence it needs to apprehend, prosecute, and punish violators.
We don’t need cameras at ever crossing – they can be moved around at random and as appropriate. But they do need to be as inconspicuous as possible to be an effective deterrent.
If the Village of Oregon can afford to spend several hundred thousand dollars on dog parks for non-human residents, we can afford to do a much better job of safeguarding walking schoolchildren and other pedestrians.
Contact village officials and demand action. Emails and phone calls are good, but nothing beats addressing the board in person.
Purchasing cameras and implementing a monitoring program do not require months of planning or waiting for the next budget cycle. This can’t be delayed until the next reckless motorist kills a crossing guard or child.
Meanwhile let’s teach our children to walk or ride the bus to school and not drive them unless it really is an emergency. Careful as we might be, it is our driving that poses the greatest threat to children who walk – and the guards who do their best to protect them.