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School crossing guards give winter safety tips

Jan 08, 2020 12:52PM ● By Julie Slama

Daybreak Elementary crossing guard Don Hicks advises students to set out earlier for school during colder weather. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

With the cold and adverse weather conditions setting in, winter can be a challenging time for school crossing safety. Drivers and pedestrians alike share responsibility for being safe; however, each year in Utah, 30 pedestrians are hit and killed by cars and another 785 are hospitalized or treated in an emergency room after being in a crash with a motorized vehicle, according to the indicator-based information system for public health. According to the Utah Highway Safety Office, more than one-third of the pedestrians involved are between age 10 and 24.

School crossing guards say exercising safety tips can reduce the risk of getting hurt. Here are tips from 10 different crossing guards from six different communities, in no particular order, on how to keep school children safe this winter while at the school crosswalk.

  1. “Safety is more important than worrying about being tardy to school or to work,” said Daybreak Elementary’s Don Hicks, who has crossed at the school for nine years. He said drivers can race through the crosswalk on nasty days so plan accordingly and get up earlier and leave for school earlier, whether walking or driving. “There can be a bit of chaos here in the morning when it’s colder and more people are driving and in a big hurry,” he said. “Give yourself the extra time.”
  2. “Drivers need to slow down in a school zone and leave more space near the crosswalk,” said Monte Vista Elementary’s Evelyn Heap, who has crossed at the school for three years, and previously drove a school bus for almost 20 years. “Sometimes drivers don’t understand the weather; you can’t stomp on the brakes as you can in the summer.” In addition to traveling the 20 mph speed limit, she also advises drivers not to crowd the sidewalk. “Even if they are just dropping off school children, it makes it difficult for the crossing guards to safely see around the vehicle and watch for children, who could dart into traffic,” she said. By allowing space at the crosswalk, it also allows drivers behind the stopped car enough room to see pedestrians crossing so they don’t pass the stopped vehicle.
  3. “Wear proper attire for the weather,” said Horizon Elementary’s Aimee Thompson, who is crossing for her third year at the school. “Sometimes, I’m having to help kids cross over snowbanks onto the sidewalk who are wearing (dress) shoes without socks.” She advises students wear snow boots to improve traction as well as winter coats and gloves. At the same time, make sure students are aware of the traffic around them, that their winter hat and scarf do not prevent them from hearing vehicles or the crossing guard. With the snowplows often piling snow near the curbs and sides of streets, she suggests drivers reduce their speed and even stop to look as they approach crosswalks to ensure pedestrian and crossing guard safety. 
  4. For 12 years, Melissa Huyboom has crossed school children at Alta View Elementary and substituted two years before that. She tells students to “wait for the crossing guard to make sure all cars stop and when I signal them, then they should cross.” Huyboom makes sure she has the eye contact and attention of the drivers as students “are excited about school, seeing a friend, talking about losing a tooth, and don’t always pay attention.”
  5. Be a good role model when walking or driving as children are sponges and soak up everything,” said Dawn Barrus, who has crossed students for a decade at both Twin Peaks and Woodstock elementary schools. “Put down everything, be alert and pay attention to distractions.” Barrus said cell phones are a big distraction for both walkers and drivers. Wearing headphones also can distract pedestrians as they aren’t aware of the traffic around them. She places a big, orange safety cone in the middle of the crosswalk to alert drivers, but she said that doesn’t always work. “My cone gets hit a lot and people say they didn’t see it,” she said.
  6. For seven years, Melissa Tupou has crossed students in Herriman, Riverton, Millcreek and throughout Salt Lake County before crossing Draper students who attend Oak Hollow Elementary, Draper Park Middle, Corner Canyon High and Summit Academy. Her safety advice is to “know and follow the school zone rules.” Often, drivers will not stop 30 feet from the striped crosswalk or proceed if pedestrians are on the other side of the road instead of waiting until the crosswalk is clear, she said, adding that drivers also try to turn right when they reach the intersection first instead of yielding to school children.
  7. Bella Vista Elementary 10-year crossing guard Don Antczak worries about the safety of school children, especially as “they’re all here at once after school.” He advises them to “stay on the sidewalks, even if they aren’t cleared after heavy storms,” rather than walking on the street after it has been plowed as “cars whip right through here.” Staying on the sidewalks puts a buffer between the pedestrians and drivers.
  8. Even in the winter, about a third of the students who cross the street to Altara Elementary ride bikes or scooters, said Pam Hortin, who has been crossing students the last 15 of her 20 years at the school. “They need to walk bikes and scooters across the crosswalk,” she said. “It’s easier to see them if they walk, but they can drop their bikes and run quickly to the side to be safe” if a motorist infringes on their crosswalk.
  9. Students should “walk carefully and be more aware as they walk,” taking intentional shorter steps in the snow and ice and being focused on what they’re doing, said Midvalley Elementary crossing guard Cathy Camacho, who has crossed five years at the school and one year in Taylorsville. “Running across the crosswalk is not allowed.”
  10. And importantly, “use crosswalks,” Peruvian Park crossing guard Carli Orr said. “Don’t jaywalk. It only takes two extra minutes to walk to the crosswalk.” She said that oftentimes, school custodians clear the snow from crosswalks, and if not, crossing guards have been known to shovel it themselves and put down ice melt so it’s safer for students to cross. She also said drivers are alert to look for students using the crosswalk as they expect them to cross at that point in the street.