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Gridlock Guy: School safety patrollers add extra level of caution

Every metro Atlanta school system has thrown open the doors and cranked up the buses for the 2017-2018 school year. And rain has drearily cloaked some of the first busy school-time rush hours, making traffic worse and conditions more dangerous for kids getting to school. Fortunately, one mainstay in school safety holds strong: the AAA School Safety Patrols program.

On the Thursday before the start of the school year, AAA’s Georgia Field VP Sasha Marcincyzk, spokesperson Garrett Townsend and several public officials gathered to share their “School’s Open - Drive Carefully” campaign. The yellows of the buses and the School Safety Patrol belts shown bright.

AAA established the Safety Patrols program in the 1920s. I got to wield the belt and badge my 6th grade year at Sagamore Hills Elementary in DeKalb 20 years ago. And I spent much of that time telling fellow students to tow the silver line in the halls, while some my fellow patrollers had more exciting duties in the carpool lane.

14-year-old Alyce Washington is Georgia’s Safety Patroller of the Year and has helped maintain order outside and inside her Clayton County school.

“I just want to ensure that everybody is safe, because looking down at your phone and seeing a text message can really hurt somebody. So I just want to help everybody help themselves,” a wise-beyond-her-years Washington says. “We make sure that students are looking at signs and looking both ways when crossing the street and following the rules of AAA.”

AAA data shows that children ages five to 14 are the highest risk age group for pedestrian injury. Washington has this message for fellow students.

“You know…one wrong step…” She makes a tragic clicking sound. Life can change on a dime.

“AAA School Safety Patrol plays an important role in helping young pedestrians learn and fulfill responsibilities regarding traffic safety,” Townsend explains. There are over 17,000 Safety Patrollers in Georgia.

Safety patrols’ bright neon-yellow belts, Washington says, act in the same way an amber “25 mph speed limit” beacon acts. They are an extra reminder for passersby to slow down in that school zone.

Marcincyzk says that children hit by cars traveling 35 mph are three times more likely to die than at 25 mph. Slow as that school speed limit is, the law makes sense and Safety Patrols are a living, walking reminder of it.

As far as being Georgia’s Patroller of the Year, Washington got selected first by her school and then won a statewide essay contest. AAA selects the winners not just based on how they patrol, but on how well-rounded they are as citizens and students. Washington explains that being a patroller has taught her a lot and, now, so has being an ambassador for the whole state.

“I have never done all of this,” she sheepishly says during our interview. “This is kind of new to me. I’m kind of shy. It has benefited me, because I’m helping others.”

As Washington moves to high school, she will shed that bright yellow belt (mine in 1997 was a moderately flat orange), as new patrollers assume their positions worldwide. AAA says over 30 countries have emulated the program.

The back to school season may be of little importance to those without kids, but every commuter should care. We all share a responsibility in doing what we can behind the wheel to keep students safe. As driving adults, we should take ownership in school safety, as Washington and other patrollers do.

Next week, we will explore school bus traffic laws and what Gwinnett County has in place to enforce them even better.

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