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Back to school: COVID changes mean ‘expect the unexpected’ in school zones

BCAA urges calm, kind and safe driving as parents get behind the wheel this back to school

Burnaby, B.C., September 8, 2020 - COVID-19 means a different-looking back to school this year, with new protocols, rules and schedules. Some changes like staggered bell times and new entry procedures will mean school zone traffic looks different too. BCAA reminds drivers of the importance of driving safely in school zones and cautions them to expect the unexpected this year.

“Back to school is stressful enough at the best of times and these aren’t the best of times,” says Shawn Pettipas, BCAA’s Director of Community Engagement. He adds that while road safety may not be top of parents’ minds, he strongly encourages parents to be extra careful as they get behind the wheel and head into the school zone. “Time and time again we see parents are stressed and rushing, and rushing leads to unsafe driving,” Pettipas says.

BCAA research over the years has shown a wide range of unsafe driving behaviours witnessed during the first few weeks back to school. Last year, 80 per cent of British Columbian parents said speeding in school zones was an issue, while 73 per cent reported drivers not stopping at crosswalks and 56 per cent saw at least one near miss involving a child almost being hit by a car.

This year, while staggered bells could mean less congestion, they could also cause a longer ‘peak’ time, and Pettipas expects it won’t mean less unsafe driving. If anything, there may be more road safety issues as parents navigate all the changes and anxiety that come with returning to school in the COVID-era.

While Pettipas understands how complicated this back to school will be, he has a few tips on how to keep calm behind the wheel:

  1. Build in extra time to prevent rushing. We understand the pressure parents can feel when it comes to dropping off and picking up their children.
  2. Focus on what you can control. No matter what’s going on around you, be patient and courteous. Reacting with extreme frustration may aggravate the situation and increase the risk of unsafe driving behaviours.
  3. Expect the unexpected. Look out for safety risks such as kids darting from cars, along with kids who are cycling and other pedestrians. With staggered bell times this year, expect a longer ‘peak’ time for drop off and pick up.
  4. Follow school zone rules. Respect your school’s drop off and pick up procedures, along with traffic rules such as driving within the speed limit, stopping at marked cross walks and not driving distracted.
  5. Avoid common mistakes. Don’t double park or stop on crosswalks, which can block pedestrians' visibility, and always avoid stopping on the opposite side of the street or in moving traffic, which would require children to cross through traffic.
  6. Leave the car. Consider walking or cycling with your child. Or park and walk the last block or two. This may be a practical option for parents working from home.

Pettipas also recommends that where possible, working parents ask their employers for flexibility, especially during the first few weeks. He says at BCAA, team members can work with their managers to book shifts to accommodate family responsibility and for head office workers a “no meeting zone” has been established during drop off and pick up time so parents can get their kids without feeling they have to rush back to the office or home office.

“I hope companies will give their workers with kids going back to school the flexibility they need to get through this difficult time. Workers who have to rush back to work for a meeting may make bad driving decisions. Let’s do what we can to help our families stay calm and stay safe.”