Monday, September 20, 2010

Traffic Safety at Drop-Off and Pick-Up

When you next come to lower-school carpool, you will see yellow, plastic stanchions and chains serving as an additional safety barrier to prevent children from straying into traffic. Drop-off and pick-up are certainly one of the most dangerous, daily events at Gaston Day. My rough estimate is that cars enter and exit 72,000 times during the school year. Every single trip must be accomplished without accident or injury.

Here are some "Don't and Do's" to keep your child as safe as possible during lower-school carpool.


* Don’t let your Pre-School or Lower-School child exit the car in drop-off into the parking lot or—another way of saying the same thing—make sure he/she gets out onto the sidewalk. A person can never be involved in a parking lot accident if they don’t step into the parking lot!

* Don’t drop off or pick up your child in the Lower-School Parking Lot or anywhere except the designated areas. There is a total lack of supervision in non-designated areas and cars are moving without expecting to see children crossing. It is convenient and speedy to drop your child off in a non-designated area, but dangerous!

* Don’t park in the spaces in front of the flagpole unless you have already dropped your Pre-K or Lower-School children off in the designated place. A child who walks across the parking lot to enter school must cross moving traffic. Remember: a person can never be involved in a parking lot accident if they don’t step into a parking lot!

* Don’t pull around a stopped vehicle in the carpool drop-off line without the signal, eye contact, and motioning permission from the traffic attendant. A child may jump out of the stopped car into the parking lot when you pull out. The traffic attendant can see if things are safe and will motion for you to proceed if appropriate. The only exception to this rule is for those far back in morning drop-off line who let their children out before entering the right lane around the traffic island. If so, you may cautiously proceed around the left side of the traffic island and wait for the traffic attendant to motion you when it is safe to proceed out.

Do’s (Encouraged, but Optional)

* Let your children get out by themselves. You stay in the car. Getting out of your vehicle to help your children slows down the carpool line. Most parents who do get out recognize this and begin running to speed things up. At that point, they have violated a cardinal message that we try to teach the children: don’t run in a parking lot. Also, they have put themselves at risk since they are now out in the parking lot, and a person can never be involved in a parking lot accident if they don’t step into the parking lot.

* Try to have your children ready when you get to the drop-off point: jackets, coats, sweaters, and book bags on, if possible (and sometimes it isn’t possible); kisses and displays of affection completed, if possible (and sometimes it isn’t possible). This is a courtesy for drivers waiting patiently behind you and, for younger children, a way to minimize separation anxiety.

* Once you let your child out and see him proceeding toward the door, stop looking at them, look at the road in front of you, and slowly pull away. This is one of the most dangerous moments in drop off, especially when very young children are involved. There is an art to making sure that your child is clear of the car and moving toward the entrance, and then moving away. Particularly for the youngest ones, once they are clear of the car, if you continue to wave, talk and maintain eye contact, you are pulling them emotionally back toward the vehicle. In the worst cases, they will break and run after you and try to enter the parking lot. If possible, once the child is out of the car and in the care of the attendant, just leave. It minimizes the anxiety and the child quickly regains composure once you are gone. But if you must intervene (and we generally advise against it), make eye contact with the traffic attendant who will direct you to a parking space in front of the flagpole and you can walk across and comfort your child.

The root of most violations of good safety practice at drop-off and pick-up is the desire for convenience. Many of us aren’t even aware that are doing something unsafe; we are just trying to get our children to school quickly and with a minimum of inconvenience. Please understand that when school employees have to ask you to comply with best safety practice, we are just trying to keep your children safe! In that moment, it may seem as if we are being unnecessarily picky or on a power trip, but please believe me when I tell you we are not!

Our perspective is informed by constant surveillance of the parking lot: we see many of those 72,000 chances and know what it takes to keep drop-off and pick-up safe. It requires a disciplined, orderly, extra-cautious daily routine. We simply cannot make exceptions in established safe practice to be more convenient because eventually the result may be an injured child. Please help us keep Gaston Day safe and please know that when we ask you not to do something during carpool, it is because we know that allowing certain minor violations to go unchecked will eventually erode the safe environment and may eventually lead to an injury.

We hope the the plastic stanchions and chains make Gaston Day a little bit safer.