Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bus official to drivers: Put down cell phones

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 8/14/2013

Motorists are urged to make Ottawa school zones “no cell phone zones” too.

Tom Parks, retired Kansas state trooper and current director of transportation for Ottawa schools, is  urging motorists to not be talking on the phone or texting while driving at any time, but especially not in school zones — with children and school buses soon taking to the streets in force for the first full day of classes Monday.

Motorists are urged to make Ottawa school zones “no cell phone zones” too.

Tom Parks, retired Kansas state trooper and current director of transportation for Ottawa schools, is  urging motorists to not be talking on the phone or texting while driving at any time, but especially not in school zones — with children and school buses soon taking to the streets in force for the first full day of classes Monday.

“If you’re driving down the highway, in the three seconds it takes you to read a text message, you’ve traveled 180 feet — that’s half a football field, and a lot can happen in that distance,” Parks said. “I don’t think people realize how far a car can travel in just a few seconds. The same holds true, even traveling at regulation speeds on city streets.”

Urging residents to put down the phones and be alert, Parks said it is not uncommon to see schoolchildren walking in the street, even when sidewalks are available.

“Children will not be paying attention to you,” Parks said, referring to motorists. “So, you have to be prepared for a child to dart into the street or between cars. And, parents, please urge your children to use sidewalks when they are available.”

With the coming of fall, Parks said, school buses soon will be starting their routes and children will be walking and riding bicycles to school when it’s still dark outside.

“If your child walks to school, make sure they are not wearing dark clothing, or attach reflective tape to their backpacks to make them easier for motorists to spot,” Parks said. “They also make backpacks now with reflective tape already built into the pack.”

Parks also urged drivers to obey regulations regarding school buses.

“Motorists are required to stop when that school bus [stop] arm is out, and it’s a pretty hefty fine ... if they don’t,” Parks, vice president of the Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association’s Northeast District, said.

Parks asked drivers not to “tailgate” school buses and be prepared for buses to make frequent stops.

“We’ve had some close calls in the past, and we don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Parks said. “So please be safe.”

Prime time for buses to be rolling and children to be walking to and from schools will take place weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Parks said.

“Buses start rolling at 6:30 a.m., and we have routes that will run past 4:30 in the afternoon, but the prime time when you’ll see buses out is 3 to 4:30 in the afternoons,” Parks said.

Classes begin at 7:45 a.m. for Ottawa high and middle schools and 8 a.m. for Ottawa elementary schools. Class dismisses at 3:10 p.m. at the high school, 3:15 p.m. at the middle school and 3:35 p.m. at the elementary schools, according to the district’s bus chart.

Parks reminded motorists that some children will be walking from schools about midday on Wednesdays, which is “early release” day for Ottawa schools.

“A lot of students will be enrolled in the after-school programs, but not all of them,” Parks said. “So be prepared to see children out walking over the noon hour on Wednesdays, at a time you wouldn’t normally be accustomed to watching for them.”

The early release schedule for Wednesdays is 12:25 p.m. for the high school, 12:30 p.m. for the middle school and 12:45 p.m. for the elementary schools.

“We’re ready to begin our routes,” Parks said. “Let’s have a safe year.”

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