Students across Western New York are returning to the classroom this week. That means a return to bus pick-ups and drop-offs, an increase in young pedestrians, and an annual message urging motorists to drive carefully.
As it has every year since 1946, AAA has begun its "School's Open - Drive Carefully" campaign. At a news conference Tuesday, law enforcers teamed up with elected and community leaders to spread the message.
AAA of Western and Central New York President and CEO Tony Spada says careless or distracted driving can have tragic consequences.
"A pedestrian is killed every two hours on average, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration," Spada said, as he read sobering statistics. "In the last decade, more than 25% of child pedestrian fatalities occurred between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. New York State averages nearly 300 pedestrian fatalities every year."
Erie County sheriff's office captain Joseph Belden reminded motorists to obey bus laws, or pay the consequences.
"Your first offense for passing a school bus is up to 30 days in jail and of up to $250 and $400. If you get a second offense for passing a school bus, within three years, it’s up to $600 to $750 and up to 180 days in jail," Belden said.
Speakers Tuesday urged drivers to put down their cell phones and avoid distracted driving temptations that could turn tragic. State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, whose district includes Amherst, Williamsville, and Clarence, says both adults and teenagers must avoid the perils of distracted driving.
"We all have [cell phones]. It’s almost like having an 11th finger. It’s part of us. Tell your students put the phone down when they’re driving. It’s so easy just to look at that text, at that email, something that pops up on your phone. It can wait because there's no turning back the clock if something tragic happens," Ranzenhofer said.
Many districts started classes on Tuesday. Others went back back Wednesday. Students who attend Buffalo public schools, the area's biggest district, start classes on Thursday.