Back to school safety reminders from Cook County Connections
By: Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen
With the return of in-person schooling for the children of the community, we at the Cook County Sheriff’s office want to take this time and offer some tips for school traffic safety.
The current drop-off and pick-up areas for ISD 166 including Great Expectations are located on County Road 7, also known as 5th Street between the Gunflint Trail and 4th Avenue West. Thanks to the hard work of Andrea Orest of the Safe Routes To School committee and Robbie Hass from the Cook County Highway Department, the speed zone in this area has been officially set at 20 MPH during school hours.
The drop-off and pick-up areas for the Oshki Ogimaag school in Grand Portage are located on the Upper Road in Grand Portage and the speed zone there is also defined as 20 MPH. The Birch Grove School has on-site drop-off and pick-up but there will be vehicles turning into the school driveway from Highway 61 in Tofte.
Besides having awareness of these areas, practicing everyday safe driving behavior can increase the safety of school children and other motorists on the road. The stopping distance for a vehicle traveling at a speed of 20 MPH is 40 feet. This distance considers the speed of the vehicle and the reaction time of the driver. This distance is increased if the driver is distracted by cell phones, pedestrians, vehicle passengers, or other stimuli.
Other things to consider when traveling through a school zone are the presence of school buses and what the different colored lights signify. Flashing lights mean that you should begin slowing down when you encounter them. Yellow flashing lights are a warning that the bus will be stopping soon. You may not pass a bus on the right when the yellow lights are flashing. Red flashing lights mean that the bus has stopped, and children are either entering or exiting. Minnesota state statute 169.444 dictates that when a stop arm is deployed, you must come to a full stop, and you cannot pass or overtake a school bus. Penalties for a violation of this statute are either a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor and a peace officer may arrest a driver who has violated any part of this statute within four hours of the incident.
Crossing guards are typically provided to assist pedestrians while they need to cross driving lanes in school zones. When these folks enter a traffic lane, please always obey the crossing guard. Children expect crossing guards will only allow them to cross the street if the situation is safe, so disregarding a crossing guard’s instructions can have serious consequences.
Pedestrians must also accept some personal responsibility when going to and from destinations. Do not always assume a driver sees you when you step out into traffic. Make sure the driver is coming to a stop before proceeding into a driving lane. If there are sidewalks, please use them and reduce your time in a traffic lane.
Some other tips for driving in school zones include but are not limited to: be aware that traffic patterns around school zones may have changed since the last school year, stay alert and put your cell phone away. Using a handheld electronic device while driving in an active school zone is against the law, always obey school zone speed limit signs. Remember, traffic fines double in school zones.
If you observe driving behavior that seems dangerous, please call the Cook County Sheriff’s Office at the number listed below or dial 911. When you dial 911 there is a delay, so please stay on the line until a dispatcher answers. Budget your time effectively so you are not rushing through a school zone either to drop children off or get to a destination. Being conscientious, attentive, and patient can increase the safety of everyone in a school zone.
We wish everyone a safe and productive school year. With significant stresses present in our everyday life, taking a moment to slow down, especially where there is a concentration of vehicles and pedestrians can be the difference between a good day and a very bad day.