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AAA's 'School's Out - Drive Carefully' campaign notes changes motorists need to watch this fall

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The AAA of Western and Central New York is out with its annual "School's Open - Drive Carefully" campaign. This year, as schools reopen under a different operational model, drivers are being reminded again to look out for youngsters. And, they're being told to be vigilant, not just during the traditional school bus hours but also throughout the day.

The school year is starting, as the result of adjustments made to prevent the spread of COVID, with a mix of at-home learning, in-class instruction or some combination of both, depending on the child's school district. This, in turn, is forcing school districts to realign their bus schedules and transportation.

"There are many twists and turns that complicate the roadmap for the reopening of schools this year, and figuring out how to get students to and from school safely is going to be one of the most complex," said Tony Spada, president of the AAA of Western and Central New York. 

Among the changes, AAA leaders and state police say, will be more children walking, riding bicycles or traveling by car due to limits in bus capacity. Additionally, some bus schedules may differ from the traditional morning and afternoon run times.

"Also, expect to see more teen drivers on the roads, as they limit school bus capacity, and many of these young drivers are still gaining confidence on the road," Spada added.

For all that is different, one of the most important reminders campaign participants are offering is to never pass a school bus that is stopped and with lights flashing. Parents are urged to be watchful and serve as a second set of eyes for law enforcers.

"If you're a parent or guardian and your child is out there, and there is a vehicle that continually passes or speeds by the bus, get as much information about that vehicle as you can," said New York State Trooper James O'Callaghan. "That's important for us to narrow down who that is, how we can arrest them at a later time, or eventually just start doing patrols on your street."

O'Callaghan says many school districts and municipalities will restart their cameras and flashing signs once classes resume.

With some children staying home to learn remotely, they may take breaks during a time of day when they'd otherwise be inside a school building. AAA and police say because kids have been home since mid-March, some have eased up their awareness for traffic and their hazards. Elizabeth Carey of AAA says parents should sit with their younger children to review safety rules including not entering a street, even if to fetch a ball or toy that got away. 

She also recommends parents sit with teens who may be driving this school year to discuss road rules and expectations, such as avoiding use of their phones or other devices that may distract from driving.

"Mom and Dad need to be good role models by putting the phone down and focusing on the road themselves," Carey said. "You would you think that the teenagers don't want to be like Mom and Dad, but they will mimic your behavior. And if you're using the phone behind the wheel, the teen drivers will too."

The "School's Open - Drive Carefully" campaign dates back to 1946. Each year, motorists have been reminded to allow extra time for their own trips, to allow for more traffic and people. Campaign participants are renewing that advice and even encouraging more patience and planning this year, as people get reacquainted with school traffic.

"A lot of the reason why people pass the buses and people drive erratically is simply because they did not give themselves enough time to get from point A to B," O'Callaghan said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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