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School’s open: Fairfield police making sure everyone drives carefully

Officer Paul Medvegy, Lt. James Perez and Officer Gary Wikman, with the help of strategically placed buses with “School’s Open” banners, are reminding drivers to keep their eyes on the road and obey traffic laws as students return to class. (John Kovach photo )

Officer Paul Medvegy, Lt. James Perez and Officer Gary Wikman, with the help of strategically placed buses with “School’s Open” banners, are reminding drivers to keep their eyes on the road and obey traffic laws as students return to class. (John Kovach photo )

Fairfield Police are stressing safe driving as students return to classes. In the hope that motorists notice, they’ve parked buses at in the Fairfield Circle and on Black Rock Turnpike bearing banners reading “School’s Open: Driver Carefully.”

Police said Tuesday they will be following up on complaints about unsafe operation near schools, and they’ll have extra sets of eyes in the field.

Crossing guards report dangerous situations they encounter, Officer Paul Medvegy said, and Officer Gary Wikman said police will follow up.

Bus drivers have been issued forms they can fill out if a vehicle passes a stopped school bus, Sgt. Suzanne Lussier said. Based on that sworn statement alone, police can issue a ticket that carries a $465 fine to a motorist who violates the law.

“School bus drivers do have complaints about people passing buses,” Wikman said Tuesday as police prepared for the Thursday’s return to classes.

Wikman said police will be out at various locations early in the school year, particularly where changes in bus drop-offs or entrances have been made.

He recommends that students and parents give themselves extra time to get to school, and that parents help children get acclimated with their route to school.

Parking becomes a problem when parents pick up or drop off students.

Lussier said 25 feet from any intersection must remain open so drivers can see.

No parking areas are no parking areas, Wikman said, “even if they say they’re going to be two minutes.”

The officers advised parents to pick up children at the same place every day to avoid confusion and ease traffic.

Fairfield Police and AAA Southern New England issued advisories to drivers with the opening of school, which brings the return of school buses and groups of children to local roads.

According to AAA, 13% of school children typically walk or bike to school, meaning drivers should be especially vigilant for pedestrians during before- and after-school hours, especially in the afternoon when it’s particularly dangerous for walking children.

Fairfield Police and AAA both advised drivers to slow down and not be distracted while driving.

“A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 10 mph faster,” according to AAA. “There’s a reason why speed limits in school zones are reduced.”

Drivers should watch for children arriving late for the bus stop, who may run into the street.

“Children often cross the road unexpectedly and may emerge suddenly between parked cars,” according to AAA. “Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing, research reports.”

Particular attention to children walking is needed where there are no sidewalks, police said.

Fairfield Police especially urged drivers to exercise caution in the downtown Post Road area, where a large number of children (from two middle schools and one high school) walk, shop and congregate after school.

Federal statistics cited by AAA indicate that over the last decade, nearly one-third of child pedestrian fatalities occurred between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

School buses should be followed at a safe distance, police said, as they make frequent stops.

Yellow flashing lights indicate that a bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.

Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and that children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again. Drivers in both directions must stop when approaching a bus with red flashing lights.

Traffic enforcement officers will be monitoring school traffic to prevent pedestrian-related accidents.

The fine for passing a stopped school bus with red flashing lights, first offense, is $465 in Connecticut, according to police.

AAA Southern New England advised drivers to “reverse responsibility,” and teach children how to act around vehicles.

“Every vehicle has blind spots,” according to AAA. “Check for children on the sidewalk, driveway and around your vehicle before backing up. Teach your children to never play in, under or around vehicles — even those that are parked.”

Drivers must come to a complete stop, AAA advised.

“Research also shows more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods,” according to the “School’s Open — Drive Carefully” campaign. “Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.”

Bicycles can result in more risks.

“Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable,” according to AAA. “Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and the bicycle. If your child rides a bicycle to school, require they wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet on every ride.”

Videos and safety tips may be found at ShareTheRoad.AAA.com.

AAA also urged parents to talk to teen drivers.

“Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and more than one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.,” according to AAA.

Guidance and tips may be found at TeenDriving.AAA.com.

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