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September 03. 2013 10:30PM

Drivers: Stay cool, stay safe near NH schools as they open

School begins today for thousands of students in the Manchester region.

But before bells ring, before a student shouts out “here” during roll call, before a student picks up his first pencil, that student has to arrive at school.

So police are urging everyone to be cautious today. That includes parent-chauffeurs, who should not treat a travel lane as their personal pit stop for child discharge. And that includes motorists, who should consider leaving for work 10 minutes early to eliminate any aggravation over traffic slowdowns around school buildings and buses.

“We all need to work together to make this a safer environment for our children,” said Sgt. Andrew Vincent, who works at the traffic unit for Manchester police. Today is the first day of school for children in Manchester and the Goffstown school district. It is the second week for children from Hooksett and Bedford.

Manchester and Bedford police both issued warnings and advice for parents who drive children to school and drop them off:

• Pull to the side of the road to stop your car and drop off your child. Stopping in the travel lane invites a rear-end collision.

• Check your mirrors before your child exits the car. Have children exit the car to the curb, not into the street.

• The child should use a crosswalk to cross the street.

Vincent said most Manchester schools were not designed with the expectations that large numbers of parents would drive their students to school. Rather, they are on narrow streets or heavily traveled streets.

He said Manchester High School Central, which fronts the one-way Beech Street, and Jewett Elementary, where parents park on both sides of the road, are particularly dangerous.

“Beech Street is just an accident waiting to happen,” said Vincent, who added that police will be out in force today to make sure traffic and pedestrian rules are followed.

Walking to school

In the past, school officials have encouraged parents to have their children walk to school. Police Lt. Maureen Tessier said it is safe for students to walk to school in Manchester, noting an abundance of sidewalks and crossing guards.

Manchester police said student-walkers should stay out of the road and use sidewalks. But in Bedford, which started school last week and has few sidewalks, police advise students to walk on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic.

The town also urged students on bicycles to travel in the same direction as cars and to obey stop signs and traffic lights.

Other advice for walkers include:

• Use designated crosswalks and look both ways while crossing the street.

• Obey crossing guards.

• Walk with friends and don’t talk to strangers.

Sgt. Vincent said it’s up to parents to decide when their child is ready to walk to school.

“The parent would know better than I would whether their child is mature enough to walk to school,” Vincent said.

At the Wilson School in Manchester, city health officials and police used federal grant money to map out a safe route to school. The program included sidewalk improvements, new signs and parental volunteers to walk children to school.

“It promotes safety, health and a sense of community,” said Community Policing Officer Mark Ampuja.

Drivers warned

Bedford police recognize that many students drive to school. They said young drivers need to make sure they are buckled in and adhere to lower speed limits in school zones. They should also avoid distractions such as cell phones, iPods and fellow students riding with them.

Police also warned motorists about school buses. State law requires drivers to stop 25 feet or more from a bus when its red lights are flashing. Fines can be up to $250 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense, along with possible license suspension and hefty insurance increases.

A driver can be ticketed for passing a stopped school bus if the bus driver or any other witness swears under oath that the driver did so. If the car owner is not the driver, he must identify the driver or take responsibility for the violation.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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