I-Team: School zones or danger zones?

We've all seen it: cars speeding recklessly through school zones, drivers distracted by cell phones, makeup or even kids on their way to their own schools. The question many parents have: can more be done to keep our children safe?

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Parents outside Oak Grove Elementary in Cary reported seeing dangerous driving regularly around the school - and they've got a crossing guard to help.

"Oh sure," said Jessica Hall, with a child in tow, "school bus is stopped, car comes zipping around the stopped school bus, past the crossing guard. People are absolutely not paying attention."

Hall's friend and fellow parent Olya Carlin agreed. She said she lost her dog to a speeding driver around the block from the school last year.

"It's a 25-mile-an-hour road but they go 45 to 55 and last year my dog was killed. It could have been a child. People need to pay attention. They need to breathe. They should not text, they should be mindful of other people that live around them," Carlin said.

That's something you hear at schools around the Triangle: drivers need to slow down and pick their heads up.

Cindy Disney, a long-time volunteer at Timber Drive Elementary in Garner, said she walks to school every day and sees dangerous, distracted driving all too often.

"A lot of people drive too fast and they don't like to stop for the walk sign up there," Disney said. "I've seen them shake their heads, they don't want to stop for the light, they're like, 'Get out of the way.' They try to speed up to catch that light down there. It's a problem."

"Even with the crossing guard," said Cary mom Tracy BirdWhistell, "she'll walk out and you can tell that they're not paying attention and don't see her and you sometimes see them slam on their brakes at the last minute. She's had people, when she's standing in the middle of the road with the stop sign, go right past. You're not thinking, 'Oh, I'm passing a school, but it only takes a split second of not paying attention to make a big mistake.'"

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said it's always worst at the start of the school year.

"People over the last few months have gotten used to going through those school zones and not slowing down, so we put the deputies in there," he said.

Harrison said his deputies know which schools have more problems but depending on the day it could be any one of them.

"Vance School, as I said, pops in my mind quickly," Harrison answered when asked which schools are worst. "Willow Springs Elementary, we get a lot of calls there. Dillard Drive. But every one of them can be a problem."

The I-Team checked in with other law enforcement and police departments. Here's how they responded regarding the safety of the students getting to and from school, the safety in individual school zones and what more - if anything - can be done to make the roads safer:

Apex Police

Captain Ann Stevens: Back to school is always busy! We promote keeping an out for kids that are walking, biking, bus riding, etc. We have also shared information this week on when you are required to stop for a school bus. We will have our entire Traffic Safety Unit out on the first day of school ensure motorist are obeying school zone speed limits and are distracted driving. We don't have any specific policies that relate to school zone safety. We provided crossing guards to public schools at the request of the Principal and after reviewed by the department. We currently have no schools requesting crossing guards.

We would always caution people to not drive distracted, keep phones down, leave early, don't rush, expect delays the first few weeks, and look for kids! We would also tell parents to make sure kids walking or biking are being safe by looking both ways before crossing the street, stay on sidewalks, walk with a group if possible and don't distracted walk by looking at your phone while walking.

Chatham County Schools

John McCann: Extended stop arms. In Chatham County Schools, 10 of our school buses are equipped with extended arms on the stop signs. Instead of a bus driver displaying a stop sign that remains close to the bus, the extended arms reach 6 feet into the next lane. Six of those buses with the extended stop arms have multiple cameras to document motorists who run afoul of the extended stop arms.

Policy on releasing students. In the event of an accident or mechanical failure that results in a bus being unable to complete its route, students will not be released to anyone. They will be transferred to another bus and taken to their final destination. Our drivers will not and cannot be expected to know who may or may not have legal custody of a child. The drivers do not know all of the parents. So for the safety of our children, we will not release any of our students in these instances.

Durham Police

Kammie Michael, police spokesperson: Our Traffic Services Unit officers conduct speed enforcement operations at various schools throughout the year. They also respond to specific complaints about speeding and other traffic issues in school zones and school bus safety (such as motorists passing a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing). We also work with Watch for Me NC to promote pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Fayetteville Police

Lt. Todd Joyce, police spokesperson: Our Traffic Enforcement Unit will be in several school zones on Monday along with Patrol Officers to enforce speeding. Officers have already been enforcing speed limits in the school zones that are year round programs. We have posted on social media about obeying school buses and feel free to share our post.

Franklinton Police

Chief John Green: In regards to schools starting back on Monday morning there isn't really any specific policy that pertains to enforcing the speed laws in school zones other than General Statute 20 series. My officers set up and run stationary radar and Lidar in school zones during morning and afternoon rush.

There is one area relating to Franklinton High School which lays in the county but borders my jurisdiction. During last school year my officers conducted special speed enforcement efforts running of Lidar to enforce the speed limit along this county road. Last year we did have one death of a student and one of the major causes in this crash was speed. The speed limit in the area is 45 MPH, however, my officers continue to clock and write students, teachers, and parents for traveling 60 plus on many occasions. The road name is Cedar Creek Road and citizens that live along this roadway has called numerous of times during last school year complaining in regards to speed of vehicles along the county road.

The Franklin County Sheriff Office and the N.C. Highway patrol also has conducted enforcement efforts to work on this continuing issue this previous school year.

Garner Police

Sgt. Chris Adams, traffic safety supervisor: In conjunction with our Watch For Me-NC efforts and our continuing focus to remind people to drive safely around our schools, we really ramp up enforcement efforts in the schools zones at the beginning of the school year. Aside from the obvious reminder that comes with issuing citations for speeding, passing stopped school buses, failing to yield to pedestrians, etc., we also make sure to remind people that we interact with WHY we are out there. We are more concerned with educating through enforcement and conversation. Oftentimes people have something else on their mind when they are driving and we mainly want to remind them of the dangers of violating some of these laws near our schools. Along with enforcement in the schools zones, we also do operations that involve following school buses with unmarked cars to look for illegal passing and other careless and reckless driving around those buses.

New Hanover County Sheriff's Office

Practices used by the Sheriff's Office include maintaining an extra presence on the first few days of school. We like to be highly visible in the area with marked units and out on foot, visible with our traffic vest. We coordinate with the school system to have ample school staff outside assisting in monitoring the arrival and dismissal of students.

We encourage the community to remember students are starting back to school and remind them to practice safe driving habits (paying attention for students walking beside the streets and crossing the streets, not texting/talking on the phone while driving in school zones, slowing down in school zones, and paying attention when approaching school buses). When the complaints start to come in reference to passing stopped school buses, we, along with assistance from other agencies, pay extra attention and direct resources as needed to address any problems.

A stop sign needed on Broughton St. leaving the middle school. Speeding on Broughton St, the speed limit is 25mph. Parents, or guardians, allowing young children to walk to school unattended.


See Raleigh's police policies on school safety here.

Rocky Mount Police

Michael Lewis: We will increase our staffing at our middle and high schools the first day and into the first week of school.

Our message to everyone is to make them aware that school is back in session. Slow down in the school zones and bus stops and don't be a distracted driver.


Chief David L. Hess: We use social media to make people aware of stopped school bus laws, reminding people of the first day of school, and announce we will conduct traffic enforcement campaigns.

At Person High School, we partner with the school by using a police officer once a quarter for a PSA during announcements reminding student drivers to wear seat belts, not speed, and stop at stop signs. We have even told the students when and where we will conduct traffic enforcement after school.

We have partnered with SADD of Person County handing student drivers leaving school "Smarties" candy for wearing a seat belt and "dum-dum" suckers for not having a seat belt on in the parking lot. The idea is to reward smart drivers and use a sucker as a non-enforcement action to remind students to buckle up.

Before spring break, we partnered with the local Interact Clubs to teach them how to interact with law enforcement during traffic stops.

Any area near or around schools are areas where drivers need to pay extra attention. Avoid talking on cell phones and other distracted driving habits.
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