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SALT LAKE CITY -- Some of the most congested roadways in Utah, for 20 minutes twice a day during the school year, are the parking lots at your local schools. Road rage is not uncommon and occasional conversations are held between parents that would make a New York City cabbie blush.
We are a car culture and increasingly, for a variety of reasons, parents are driving their students to school. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “The most common mode of travel to school is the family car (46 percent).”
The National Highway Safety Administration in the report, “Traffic Safety Facts 2008: Pedestrians,” lists parking lots as the most common area for injuries to pedestrians under the age of 12.
These two facts put more cars and more students in the highest risk area, the parking lots of our schools. Large numbers of automobiles and small children in close proximity can be a recipe for disaster.
Newer schools were designed to accommodate this increased load with separate areas for parking, bus pick-up and drop-off, and parent pick-up and drop-off. Older facilities, however, were never designed for the increased level of traffic.
Here some tips to help keep kids safe and lower the stress level:
- Know your school's parking lot and drop-off/pick-up procedures
- Leave early and expect to take some time
- Never let children walk through the parking lot alone
- Teach your children the safety habits needed in parking areas
- Slow down, take a deep breath and be polite
1. Know your school's parking lot and drop-off/pick-up procedures.
Most if not all schools will have parking lot and drop-off/pick-up guidelines. Find out what they are. Author Cherylyn Feierabend on the Mighty Mommy website recommends the following, “On the first day of school, if not earlier at an orientation, pay attention to any and all of the rules about the parking lot. There should also be signs around the lot explaining which lanes are for dropping off, picking up, parking or for buses. If you are uncertain about where to park or which lanes are for which specific activity, be sure to ask.” Schools will be eager to share this information. It will make their jobs easier as well.
2. Leave early and expect to take some time.
Mornings can be chaotic, with kids getting ready for school and parents getting ready for work. Many times you could find yourself at the school just before the first bell. The last five or six minutes before the start of school can be pandemonium. You will be amazed at what just 10 minutes will do to ease the congestion and lower the stress level.
3. Never let children walk through the parking lot alone.
If you are going to use the parking lot rather than the designated drop-off/pick-up areas, plan to park your vehicle and escort your student to the school building. Holding your child’s hand is always a good idea. Kids hidden behind cars and coming out unexpectedly can pose a problem for even cautious drivers. Adults are much larger, making them easier to see.
4. Teach your children the safety habits needed in parking areas.
Cherylyn at Mighty Mommy again says it well, “So, you know you are following the rules; but what about the kids? Your kids will be told by the school how to behave, of course, but you should absolutely reinforce this.” Check with your school and determine what your children are being told by the school. Your understanding and reinforcement of the rules and procedures will help make all the students at the school safer.
5. Slow down, take a deep breath and be polite.
Slow down; expect that drop-off/pick-up will take some time. Everyone there is in the same boat. When something happens that annoys or even angers you, take a deep breath and smile. It is a good model for your child and all the other children coming to school, and it is better for your blood pressure.
All this may take a bit more time, consider it as an investment in your sanity and the safety of your child and all the students at your school.
Guy is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He is school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Guy has been married for 26 years and has three children.