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Viewpoint: Parents, embrace these back-to-school safety tips

By Scott Melander

School buses and crossing guards have returned to city streets, as children throughout Woodbury head back to school. It's a good time of year to remind motorists to drive carefully, watch for children, and observe all laws pertaining to school zone safety.

There are several state laws designed specifically to protect our children as they travel to and from school and the Woodbury Police Department devotes considerable resources to enforcing them. Officers monitor motorists for compliance with laws governing school bus stop arms, crosswalks, and speed limits in school zones. Most people are aware of these laws; they just get in a hurry sometimes or they get distracted.

Stop for the buses

Failing to stop for school buses when the stop arm is extended is a serious violation which, depending on the circumstances, can result in a substantial fine, loss of driving privileges, or even jail time. The Woodbury Police Department investigates every complaint reported by school bus drivers, who jot down license plate numbers of offending vehicles.

Motorists should know what is required whenever the flashing amber or flashing red lights of a school bus are activated. The Minnesota State Patrol provides the following descriptions:

- School bus pre-warning signals -- The flashing amber lights are meant to warn other drivers that the school bus is preparing to load or unload students. Upon observing a school bus displaying flashing amber lights, be extra alert for children in the area and be prepared to stop. It is a gross misdemeanor to pass or attempt to pass on the right side of a school bus displaying the amber flashing warning lights.

- School bus red lights and stop arm -- When the school bus is stopped with its flashing red lights activated and its stop arm extended, traffic from both directions must stop at least 20 feet away from the school bus. Motorists must remain stopped until the stop arm is retracted and the red lights are no longer flashing. The only time motorists are not required to stop for a school bus with its red lights flashing is when the bus is on a separate roadway. A separate roadway means a road that is separated from a parallel road by a safety isle/median or safety zone.

Pedestrians and crosswalks

School buses aren't the only concern with the kids going back to school. Pedestrian safety at crosswalks in Woodbury also is critical. The law is unequivocal: Drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. This pertains to all school crossings, such as the one on Lake Road at Blue Ridge Drive, which is used by Lake Middle School students. It also applies to all crosswalks throughout the city.

Of course, it is easier to stop for pedestrians if you are observing the school zone speed limits. These generally are 20 or 25 mph, and are clearly posted and strictly enforced when children are present. Remember, too, you must stop when school patrol members have their flag extended at an intersection or crossing. Think of the flag as the red light of a traffic signal. And on roads in school areas, please don't even consider passing on the shoulder.

Teach the children

While safety messages often go primarily to drivers, it's important for parents to instruct their children in safe crossing practices, and also in school bus safety. Children need to be shown how to judge if there is adequate time to cross a street. They must be alert and cautious at all crossings, and never enter a road from between parked cars.

If you have teenaged drivers in your household, be aware that they have a statistically higher risk of being in an accident than more experienced drivers. Before allowing your teen driver to climb behind the wheel and head to school, be sure you both agree on the boundaries and limitations of their driving time.

Discuss when, where, and with whom your teen is allowed to drive. Limit the number of passengers in the car. Insist that your teen and all passengers wear seatbelts at all times. While they may not be "cool," seatbelts save lives. In addition, emphasize that using a cell phone is illegal for drivers under age 18.

Road construction

In addition, ongoing summer road work will impact school commutes this fall. For example, the Woodbury Drive/Bailey Road intersection is closed for the construction of a roundabout. Motorists should use Military Road/70th Street, Radio Drive, Manning Avenue and/or Valley Creek Road as alternate routes. Students and parents can access the St. Ambrose campus from the east on Bailey Road or the south on Woodbury Drive. Detailed detour maps are available at

As the kids return to school, drivers should slow down, pay attention, and be courteous. Let's all do our part to make our community and neighborhoods safer for everyone, especially our children.

Melander is a Woodbury police traffic officer

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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