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Student Safety First

The start of school Monday brought students back to class and the return of traffic congestion to city and county streets and roads – especially at the intersection of East Pine Log Road and South Aiken Boulevard.

With Millbrook Elementary on one side of East Pine Log Road and Kennedy Middle and South Aiken High on the other, the intersection is “extremely busy,” said Lt. Jake Mahoney, the public information officer for the Aiken Department of Public Safety.

“You are right in the middle of three schools, and each of those schools has a fairly large student population,” said Mahoney, adding his department has not had any significant incidents involving harm to students or motorists at the location. “Start and dismissal times are very close. Even though the school system tries to stagger those times, you still have a significant number of intermingling between the schools, not to mention it's close to one of the busiest intersections in the city, Whiskey Road and Pine Log Road.

“It's a very congested intersection with a lot of students from three different schools arriving by bus and by personal vehicle and a number of students who walk.”

To ensure students' safety at Pine Log Road and South Aiken Boulevard, Aiken Public Safety hires adult crossing guards at the intersection.

The uniformed school crossing guards wear vests to identify themselves and have stop signs they hold up while students are crossing the road. By state law, the crossing guards are empowered to direct, control and regulate traffic, Mahoney said.

“We rely heavily on them,” he said. "Several of our guards have significant experience directing traffic at that location. One of our crossing guards has been with us more than 10 years, probably more than 15. They place the safety of the children as their priority.”

The added congestion and change in traffic patterns at the beginning of a new school year can frustrate drivers, Mahoney said.

Expect delays

“So there are at times delays,” he said. “But the purpose of delaying or stopping traffic is to give the priority to children who are attempting to cross. We also heavily enforce and increase our presence in the school zones, especially during the first couple of weeks of school, just to help encourage folks to obey the school speed zones and to slow down.

“And there is an adjustment period. We see it every year. There are longer wait times and delay times at the beginning of the year, but people tend to get into a rhythm; and things tend to smooth out.”

Mahoney said adult motorists approaching a school zone should be patient.

“Plan to slow down and understand that the safety of the children is the priority,” he said. “The general rules, especially during drop-off and dismissal times, are slow down, allow more time, understand that this is new to a lot of people. It's new to students. It's new to parents.”

Parents of young drivers who are driving to high school for the first time should talk to their children about traffic safety at Pine Log Road and South Aiken Boulevard, Mahoney said.

“Advise them to arrive early, be patient and try to avoid that intersection if possible,” he said. “There are other ways to access all of the schools other than that location.”

Yield to pedestrians

Mahoney offered two other traffic safety tips for the start of the school year.

“No. 1, drivers need to yield to pedestrians,” he said. “No. 2, approach school zones with a what-if mindset: what would I do if a child ran out in front of me? What would I do if, all of a sudden, the vehicle in front of me, had to slam on its brakes? If you approach those congested areas with that mentality, it goes toward making the entire drop-off and pick-up procedure even safer.”

Mahoney said Aiken Public Safety evaluates school crossings every year to determine if resources are appropriate.

“We're always open to ways to improve, and if individuals have suggestions or if they have identified a specific hazard that might have been overlooked, we definitely encourage them to reach out to us and have a conversation and share that information,” he said.


Click here to read the full Aiken Standard article. 

Larry Wood/Aiken Standard