The AAA’s annual back-to-school campaign reminding motorists to drive carefully around schools and school buses kicked off Tuesday in Buffalo.
Speaking in front of a school bus on loan from the Williamsville Central School District, local and state law enforcement representatives and Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns joined AAA Western & Central New York to launch the 74th "School’s Open—Drive Carefully" effort.
"This is a reminder to motorists: When you see that 'School’s Open—Drive Carefully' emblem, let that be a reminder to yourself," said Elizabeth Carey, AAA of Western & Central New York’s director of public relations and corporate communications. "Promise yourself that, 'I'm going to drive safer around school buses and I want to keep kids safe.'"
Despite the longstanding campaign and its ubiquitous yellow signage, New York State Police Trooper and Public Information Officer James O’Callaghan said there are still 150,000 incidents of drivers purposefully passing school buses when the flashing lights are on over the course of a typical school year.
Failure to stop for a school bus is an offense that can incur a fine of $200-$1,000, five points on a New York State driver’s license or 30-180 days in jail, according to Sgt. Amy Parisi of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office’s crash investigation unit.
O’Callaghan said parents should talk to their children about street safety, including how to safely cross the street, and he warned drivers that kids might not always be on the lookout for cars.
“School has begun and you really need to watch for those kids,” he said. “They may not be looking for you, but as the operator of your vehicle, you really need to be looking for them.”
The deadliest time of day for child pedestrian fatalities isn’t during drop-off and pick-up times. It is between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“Drivers need to be vigilant about pedestrian safety before, during and after school hours,” said Kearns. He also shared an emphatic piece of advice.
“Put that device down,” he said. “With distracted driving, you may make a mistake that we don’t want and [that] you’re going to regret for the rest of your life.”
President of AAA New York State Anthony B. Spada shared the following helpful reminders for drivers:
- Always stop for a school bus when the lights are flashing
- Slow down
- Remove all distractions from the driver—put cell phones down
- Do not pass other vehicles
- Obey crossing guards at all times
- Expect the unexpected
- Check your mirrors before moving
- Teach your children the rules of traffic safety
Carey, of AAA of Western & Central New York, also addressed the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend and the region’s recent string of fatal car crashes involving young drivers.
“Some schools are already back in session. Some head back to the classroom next week, and in between that span we have Labor Day, the last long weekend of the summer,” she said. “So, we want to make sure we wrap up the summer safely. Just a reminder to everyone to drive safely over Labor Day weekend as well.”