When we moved to South Dakota, we knew we wanted our kids to be a part of the Brandon Valley School District. We had always heard amazing things and being a teacher, education is high on my priority list. When we found a house close to one of the Brandon Valley elementary schools – we were thrilled. “We are so close, they could even walk to school,” we exclaimed. The only problem is that the school is on a busy road. The girls would have to cross the busy road to get to school twice a day. Although the perfect scenario would be a sidewalk all the way to the school from our house, we were grateful for the crosswalk – crossing the very busy road. We were grateful for the blinking lights next to the 15 mph sign that says to slow when children are present. We were grateful for the large grass boulevard they could use since there is no sidewalk.
The last two years we would walk the girls to school the first few of weeks to make sure they had a safe route and that they used their street smarts on the walk. With cellphone usage and texting you can’t assume driver’s eyes are on the road. We taught them to make sure the drivers of the cars could see them and waved them across the crosswalk. We did everything we could think of to prepare them to safely walk to school.
On the first day this year Denis and I were excited to walk Cadynce to school. We got her all packed up and loaded the stroller with the littles and we were on our way. We were talking with her all the way about safe choices on the walk. Although, she will never walk alone to or from school, we still want her to have some street smarts. Cadynce is more of a “follow a butterfly into the road” kind of girl. On our walk, both Denis and I noticed the speed of the drivers were extremely fast – even faster than the 35mph normal speed limit of the road. 15mph is very noticeable – you can tell someone is purposely going slow and driving cautiously. When we got to the crosswalk, we were disturbed as we waited for multiple cars to fly right through and not let us cross. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Finally one car stopped on one side of the crosswalk, but the other side of the road – the cars kept flying by. Finally after a few minutes, both sides of the road stopped so we could pass through the crosswalk. We walked the rest of the way on the sidewalk and shook our heads at what we had just experienced. We were frustrated with the walk and the lack of awareness but chalked it up to the first day of school and most cars were out of practice slowing down for the school zone. After all, school hadn’t been in session for 6 months. However, for the next three days our walks to school were sadly very similar. Drivers going too fast and not stopping for families and children at the crosswalk.
Another mom in our neighborhood noticed the same things. She had the idea to stand at the crosswalks and have signs kindly reminding drivers that there are children present and it is the law to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. We didn’t want to be mean about it, but wanted to get our point across that it is very important. We decided to dress up in silly costumes to make it a little more light hearted and not like a protest. Last year, we had a family friend who’s grandson passed away in an accident at a school crosswalk in Colorado. Of course, I can’t imagine losing a child and thought holding a sign at a crosswalk one morning in a silly witch costume was the least I could do, if it helped safe one life.
On Monday morning, I put on a witch hat and cape and headed down to the crosswalk with my sign. My friend dressed as Mary Poppins, headed to another crosswalk close to the school. I felt a little silly but just started waving at cars and thanking them for going slowly. My sign said “Drive like your kids walk to this school.” I know the majority of the people who are on the road at this time are parents of students at our school. However, there are also a lot of other drivers who use this road to get to work in the city. I was hopeful that my message was positive enough that people wouldn’t feel attacked but be thoughtful about their driving.
I was grateful to find that most cars were going nice and slow and being cautious drivers. When I had children or families come to the crosswalk, I did walk out with them and made sure that all cars stopped quickly on both sides of the road. I felt like cars were not sure of the rules and were planning to drive right through the crosswalk- thinking the pedestrians would cross when there were no cars coming. However, South Dakota Law 32-27-1 states:
The driver of any vehicle upon a highway within a business or residence district shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the highway within any clearly marked crosswalk or any regular pedestrian crossing included in the prolongation of the lateral boundary lines of the adjacent sidewalk at the end of a block, except at intersections where the movement of traffic is being regulated by traffic officers or traffic direction devices. However, no pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. A violation of this section by a driver is a petty offense.
Do you know your state’s laws about crosswalks and school zones?
When my time at the crosswalk was over and I heard the school bells ringing, I was grateful for my time there. People driving by were smiling, thanking us, honking with gratitude and cheering us on. No one wants an accident to happen, no one wants to be the one to live with themselves if they hurt or killed a child in a crosswalk. We are all guilty of being distracted drivers, whether it is on our phones or so much going on in our minds. I hope our silly costumes and signs made an impact to all of the drivers in our school zone and you as you read this post. Let’s keep our kids alive and help them get to and from school safely.