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The City Journals

Pay attention and slow down say school crossing guards to drivers

Nov 01, 2022 06:55PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Green and black ribbons are tied on posts at the intersection of an Orem neighborhood in memory of an 11-year-old who was struck and killed in a crosswalk by a motorist.

Harm to a child is a constant fear amongst school crossing guards as they say there has been an increase of motorists who speed through school zones and crosswalks, or become distracted and aren’t being cautious to pedestrians, or may have forgotten that they need to stop until everyone is out of the cross walk.

The issue isn’t just in Orem.

Last spring, 11-year crossing guard Lorena Marcotte stood in the intersection of Isla Daybreak and Top View near Eastlake Elementary in South Jordan when her crossing guard partner Heidi Cook alerted her to a car entering the intersection that was “rolling right through the stop, heading right toward the girl.”

“She didn’t see us, despite wearing big yellow jackets, having orange cones set up and having our stop signs up. She was just zoned out,” Marcotte said. 

After jumping out in front of the car, the driver “slammed on her brakes. Thankfully, she wasn’t going that fast,” Marcotte said.

Thanks to their quick actions, the girl safely made it to school and the mother wrote the crossing guards a note of appreciation, said DeAnn Bland, South Jordan Police Department crossing guard supervisor.

Bland said it’s important for motorists to be aware of their surroundings, especially in school zones.

“The longest drivers ever tend to stop is just a matter of seconds,” she said. “A few seconds matter. It meant all the world to that mother and her daughter.”

Earlier this school year, on the afternoon on Sept. 22, 10-year crossing guard Lisa VanWagenen was crossing a fifth-grade student at the intersection of 1000 East and 11000 South in Sandy when a motorist entered the crosswalk while both VanWagenen and the student were in the crosswalk.

“I was out there and I’m like, ‘Are you really going to hit me?’” VanWagenen said. “Then the driver saw me and stopped, and I proceeded to make sure the kid got across safely. I had told the kid, ‘Stay, wait’ because I didn’t know if the car was going to stop or not.”

A week earlier, VanWagenen’s crossing guard partner, Stacey Sierer had a near-miss in the same intersection when a car entered the intersection after she crossed a second-grade student who was on his way to Altara Elementary.

“He was still in the intersection and…a car came and turned left and I was still standing out there with my stop sign,” she said. “There was another that morning who was going straight through. I had to stop him literally with my stop sign and say, ‘You can't go through here while I'm in the middle of the crosswalk.’ He just kind of shrugged.”

Sierer admits that crossing students with traffic is concerning.

“It gives me anxiety. When there are kids around, I'm watching, but otherwise I look away,” said the second-year crossing guard. “I love the kids and the hours works with my schedule. It’s a fun job except for worrying about the traffic and if you’ll survive.”

While VanWagenen said, “most are pretty respectful,” she estimates at least three or four motorists attempt or drive through the intersection every day while they are crossing elementary schools. 

She said that often drivers don’t wait their turn and will proceed with the car in front of them.

“Everybody's in such a hurry and they speed up to stop so they can say ‘I was here first’ so they can proceed,” VanWagenen said. “They should just set their alarm five minutes earlier or deal with being late. We all need to be observant and find patience to make sure these kids are safe.”

Sandy crossing guard supervisor Janice Parker said that throughout Sandy there have been such incidents, including having had two of her crossing guards hit by drivers in the past five years.

“We get lots of speeders; one car was going 50 mph in a 20 mph speed zone,” she said about a motorist recently driving by an elementary school. “We have issues everywhere; there's really not a specific area that is worse than another one.”

The crossing guards say that it gets “scary” when motorists proceed or turn into the intersection before they’re out of it and that’s when they try to educate them.

“I'll say, ‘I'm still holding the stop sign. I'm still in the intersection’ and try to remind them. I try to be nice and not try to be scolding, but it’s hard when they try to run me over,” VanWagenen said. “I’m here because I love these kids and want to keep them safe.”

In a school crossing walk—the one commonly referred to as a “ladder,” “zebra stripes” or “piano keys”—all pedestrians and the crossing guard need to be safely on the sidewalk before a motorist can enter it.  These, and reduced school speed zone beacons, are determined through safe-walking routes which meet regulations, Sandy City Transportation Engineer Britney Ward said.

“The intersection at 10th East and 11000 South is really busy,” she said. “It's a high traffic area with a lot of trips, a lot of vehicles and a lot of students there. There's just a lot going on there.”

Even with safety precautions in place, Ward recommends “pedestrians should always be cautious when crossing the road and look and check if there are vehicles coming first. They can't just count on the drivers suddenly seeing them or paying attention or seeing that there’s a crosswalk there.”

VanWagenen and Sierer are among 52 Sandy crossing guards who cross children 40 minutes in the morning before school and 30 minutes after school.  

While crossing guards undergo training, their priority is to ensure the safety of the students. However, when the crossing guards have time to capture photos of the motorists who violate the law on their cell phones or jot the license plate down, they are instructed to turn it over to Parker, who works with the Sandy Police.

Parker said violators can be issued tickets.

“There's three things that are really issues: speeding through a school zone; going through crosswalks that are occupied; and talking on your cell phone and not paying attention,” she said. “People just need to realize crossing guards are there to keep your children in Sandy safe and they are among our everyday heroes every day. So slow down, pay attention and have some patience.”