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The State

Speeding Is Biggest Concern in Survey of Crossing Guards

Safety: Motorists who ignore stop signs also are cited as a leading risk to schoolchildren.

September 03, 2002|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the traditional school year kicks off, a new survey of crossing guards has found that roadway conditions around elementary schools are often dangerous, with most motorists speeding and ignoring traffic laws near schoolchildren.

Crossing guards from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Francisco counties reported that only a fourth of all motorists drove under the mandatory 25 mph speed limit around schools when children were present.

The survey, the first of its kind by the California Institute of Transportation Safety at San Diego State, found that the most common traffic violation was committed by motorists who sped past children in crosswalks, ignoring the crossing guards' red stop signs.

Sheila Sarkar, the lead researcher and founder of the institute, said the study recommends an increase in police patrols and added roadway improvements to reduce speeding around schools.

She said the goal of the study was to identify the working conditions of crossing guards in Southern and Northern California. "They are protecting the children, yet no one has made an attempt to see their conditions," she said.

Most crossing guards are older men and women who work about two hours a day for an average of $8.59 per hour.

Dennis Phelps, a San Fernando Valley crossing guard for the last four years, said the findings were no surprise to him.

Phelps said he sees motorists routinely speed and ignore traffic signals around children. His job is inherently dangerous, with speeding motorists narrowly missing crossing guards on a regular basis, he said.

"Every day, people fail to obey the speed laws," said Phelps, a retired industrial photographer. "They go right through the crosswalks while the crossing guards are there."

Sometimes, crossing guards can't avoid danger.

In Los Angeles, two guards have been killed in the last two years, and several more throughout Southern California have been injured on the job.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 52 crossing guards were injured on the job in California in 1999.

Of the 186 guards surveyed by the transportation institute, 3.5% said they had been hit by a car on the job, and nearly 30% said they had narrowly escaped being hit.

About half said they had tried unsuccessfully to persuade traffic engineers to make roadway improvements to increase children's safety around schools.

Most of the guards who participated in the survey said they took the job primarily for the extra cash, but nearly half said they also felt a need to protect the children. Many guards said they had formed strong bonds with the children.

More than 70% of the guards said they had never considered quitting their job. But of those who had, most cited the dangers posed by speeding, reckless motorists.

In Los Angeles, police operate several programs to crack down on drivers who speed, make illegal turns and double park around schools. In South Los Angeles, police conduct a weekly sting operation to cite motorists who drive through crosswalks while pedestrians are using them. Each month, the sting nets nearly 500 violators.

But Los Angeles Police Department officials say they don't have the staff to patrol every school, every day.

When school days begin and end, a frenzied swarm of motorists pulls up to campuses throughout Los Angeles, said Sgt. Steven Smith of the LAPD's South Los Angeles traffic bureau.

Children who dart between cars to get to class on time are most at risk of being hit, he said.

"Everybody is in a rush at that time of the morning," Smith said.

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