Drivers beware: School begins Wednesday in Clarke County

The new school year begins Wednesday in Athens-Clarke County. Motorists should be wary of added traffic, pedestrians and cyclists on their morning and afternoon commutes. (FILE)

Clarke County public schools begin the 2017-18 school year Wednesday, which means thousands more children will be boarding yellow school buses and crossing busy streets starting this week.

 

Besides that, tens of thousands of University of Georgia students are returning in advance of the beginning of UGA classes Aug. 14, which means the volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic is rapidly ramping up.

At the same time, a lot more drivers are on the road, many of them inexperienced.

Athens-Clarke County Police Department spokesman Epifanio Rodriguez’s advice is to be patient and vigilant.

“People might want to think about leaving for their commutes a little early,” he said.

Drivers should also be mindful of school bus safety laws; when the stop sign on the school bus is out, stop, and stay idle until the sign is retracted.

For those who don’t stop, be aware: Many school buses have cameras attached and drivers who disregard the bus stop sign are likely to receive traffic citations in the mail.

On the first day of school in Oconee County last week, the sheriff’s department reported seven auto mishaps within an hour, all of them rear-end collisions.

Rodriquez didn’t have precise statistics, but said this time of year is likely a time when Athens-Clarke police also see an uptick in traffic collisions.

Also, there’s been a more general increase in dangerous traffic incidents statewide. After a decade of decreasing fatal car collisions, the number of Georgia traffic fatalities has increased 33 percent in the past two years, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Here are some safety tips from the National Safety Council and the Georgia Department of Transportation:

  • Don’t double park when dropping kids off at school. It blocks visibility for other children and motorists.
  • Don’t load or unload children across the street from the school.
  • Never pass a bus from behind when it’s stopped to load or unload children, and never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians.
  • In general, use extreme caution to avoid striking pedestrians, no matter who has the right of way.
  • Also use extreme caution around school buses stopped to load or unload children. The most dangerous area is within 10 feet of a bus.
  • Don’t block crosswalks when stopped a light or a stop sign; that could force pedestrians into traffic.
  • Be wary of children (and college students) riding bikes. They can be unpredictable and hard to see.
  • When passing a cyclist, proceed slowly, leaving 3 feet between your vehicle and the bicycle.
  • The most frequent kind of bicycle-vehicle collision is when vehicles turn left in front of a cyclist; when a cyclist approaches and you are turning left, wait for the cyclist to go by.
  • If you’re turning right and a bicycle is approaching from the behind on your right, let the bike rider go through first, and always use turn signals to indicate the direction you’re turning.
  • Try to remember to check side mirrors before opening vehicle doors.
  • Be watchful when you see children gathered at a bus stop or elsewhere, as they are apt to dart into the street. Most children who die in bus-related incidents are 4 to 7 years old, walking, and are hit by a bus or a vehicle illegally passing a school bus.
  • Don’t text and drive.

Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.

 

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