Drivers and families reminded to slow down and plan ahead for return to school

NOW: Drivers and families reminded to slow down and plan ahead for return to school

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Students across Wisconsin are heading back to the classroom after an unprecedented pandemic school year. The return to in-person classes will surely bring out more traffic near schools.

"A lot of schools were not fully in session with all kids, all five days of the week last year, so those school environments are going to feel busier just because of all of the return to in person learning this year," said Shawn Koval UW Health's healthy schools coordinator. 

Koval is reminding drivers and families to be extra cautious, especially in school zones.

"Middle schoolers, they might not be aware and they might be on their phones [when walking]," said Koval. "But as drivers the mistake that you make is going to have a lot more consequences than as a student who is walking, because they're not behind the wheels of a large automobile, and that can really make a difference in terms of a fatality." 

He says the number one thing people can do is plan ahead so they're not rushing; And while drivers need to follow the speed limits, usually 20 mph in school zones, Koval says parking lots are also a place that can be dangerous when drivers aren't paying attention. 

"Students are shorter, so it can be harder to see children in parking lots and streets around schools," said Koval. 

Every year hundreds of fatalities are caused by cars across the state. In 2020 there were 362 fatal crashes according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). There have already been 321 so far in 2021. 

WisDOT says its 'Law of the Month' for September is to remind drivers of the rules involving school buses and ways to protect young passengers.

“School bus law violations pose serious risks for children, but the that can be prevented with careful driving. Watch closely for kids who may not be able to recognize dangers on the roads,” said Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson.

In the past ten years, 33 people have died in crashes involving school buses. Despite fewer in-person classes during the pandemic, officials say in 2020 there were still 342 school bus-related crashes in the state.

That is down from 835 in 2019.

Wisconsin law requires drivers in both directions to stop at least 20 feet from a school bus with its red warning lights flashing. The only exception is for vehicle son the other side of a divided road that is separated by a median or other physical barrier, officials say.

Officials say 648 drivers were convicted for failure to stop for a school bus in Wisconsin last year.

Wisconsin State Patrol officers work to prevent tragedies. 

“Getting children to school safely is very important to us. School buses are among the safest vehicles on the roads. Our work to inspect those vehicles and uphold laws makes sure buses stay a protected place for kids,” said WSP Superintendent Anthony Burrell.

WisDOT says most state school buses have amber lights that flash when the bus is about to stop. The lights signal drivers to slow down before red lights are activated.

As school begins, WisDOT also reminds drivers of state laws involving pedestrians and bicyclists:

  • Always follow the directions of a school crossing guard. If instructed to stop, the driver must do so at least 10 feet away from the school crossing area and stay stopped until the guard directs the driver to proceed.
  • Yield to pedestrians who have started crossing an intersection or crosswalk on a walk signal or green light. Drivers must also yield to pedestrians crossing the road in a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection without signals.
  • Leave three feet clearance when passing bicycles traveling in the same direction.

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