ST. GEORGE — In the opinion of one St. George police sergeant who oversees the city’s crossing guards, driving distracted and in a hurry seem to have become a common habit for anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car these days. While being impatient and distracted while driving is already a problem, it can become worse when combined with school crosswalks and the children that use them.
Nowhere is this more evident than at the crosswalks at the four-way stop by Little Valley Elementary, St. George Police Department Sgt. Tyrell Bangerter said.
“That’s why we’re out here again today,” Bangerter said as he stood on the street corner of Horseman Park Drive and 2350 East in front of Little Valley Elementary. “A lot of the drivers, who happen to be parents, are coming and picking their kids up at Little Valley Elementary or dropping them off – they’re not paying attention to what’s going on and they’re in a hurry.”
Nearby, crossing guard Elisabet Tapia held her stop sign up high as she stood in the center of a crosswalk while a wave of elementary school students made their way across the street.
“Everybody’s in a hurry. We understand that. We all have places to go and things to do,” Bangerter said. “But our crossing guard is having near misses or she’s almost getting hit.”
While previously speaking with St. George News concerning the police department’s hunt for substitute crossing guards, Bangerter mentioned some of the issues they were experiencing at school crosswalks due to motorists. He went into detail about these traffic troubles during a follow up visit to the Little Valley school zone.
What follows is a list of the issues Bangerter focused on:
Drivers failing to stop at the white stop lines ahead of the crosswalk and instead choosing to stop beyond those lines or even coming to a stop in the middle of the crosswalk itself.
“We need people to stop prior to the stop sign,” Bangerter said.
This and the following issue are among the most common moves committed by drivers either going to the school or just passing though the intersection, he added.
Drivers not completely stopping, but rather performing what Bangerter referred to as a “California stop,” which involves the driver only slowing down, even to a crawl, as they come to the intersection, and then speed up to get across when it appears the intersection is clear of traffic.
“I think they understand the expectation that when we have a big red octagon with a stop on it, that that means they need to stop.” he said. “Do most people stop? No, they don’t stop and as you sit here, you’ll see that a lot of vehicles don’t stop. A lot of vehicles, if they do stop are typically past the stop line, which is into the crosswalk, around the crosswalk, and sometimes even into the other crosswalk.”
Failing to came to a complete stop for a stop sign is a traffic offense that can result in a ticket, Bangerter said.
Drivers not paying attention to the lanes they cross over when making a turn. This has resulted in traffic cones being run over on occasion, which is also a ticketable offense. The cones are there to help remind drivers there’s a crosswalk there and they need to pay attention, Bangerter said.
Just before Bangerter was going to speak with St. George News, a man driving an SUV made a sharp left turn from Horseman Park Drive onto 2350 East and ran over one of the 36-inch traffic cone that had been set up by the traffic guard.
Bangerter pulled the driver over and issued him a ticket for running over the cone, which he added is about the same height as the students who attend Little Valley Elementary and other elementary schools throughout the area.
If a driver is not paying enough attention to the point they hit and run over a cone, a child or crossing guard wouldn’t fare much better, he said.
Drivers not stopping for people already in the crosswalk and moving on through. Under Utah law, when it comes to a school zone crosswalk, drivers, regardless of the lane they are in, must come to a stop and not proceed until the person still in the crosswalk has left it. It doesn’t matter if that person is not is currently in the other lane or not.
“If there is anybody in there – anybody – whether its a kid, an adult, a crossing guard, anyone at all, from curb to curb, nobody can go through that crosswalk,” Bangerter said emphatically. “Once its clear, that’s when you can go through.”
When out with Bangerter the first time at Little Valley Elementary, a man driving a work truck drove through the crosswalk-marked intersection while Tapia, the crossing guard, was still in the crosswalk and holding up her stop sign. Bangerter confirmed later that the company the driver worked for had been contacted by the police about the incident.
“We’re just asking parents, drivers, anybody, whether you’re out working, whether you’re dropping your kids off, picking your kids up, running to a doctor’s appointment, or wherever it is you’re doing – when you get around one of the schools, get your head back in the game, put the distractions away, put the phones away,” Bangerter said.
“Do the little things. Make sure that we’re coming to a full stop, where we should be stopping because nobody ever intends to get in the crash most of the time. But we all make these little mistakes while we’re driving. And those little mistakes are what end up causing catastrophic incidents … You could end up running over a kid and nobody wants that. We don’t want that.”
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