Christine Costin: Time to crack down on road safety around schools

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Times change and I find myself looking back, like my grandparents used to do when they were remembering a different way of life.

They would tell me about hard times when according to my grandfather his mother used to fire sultanas through a pea-shooter into the Christmas pudding because she could not afford enough of them. I never quite believed that one!

For me it is the changing face of hazards on our roads that amazes me. When I was a child there were no safety belts and children ‘roamed free’ in vehicles waving ‘things’ out of the windows. It is a miracle that more of us did not end-up mangled in road crashes. There were accidents and fatalities but people didn’t seem to think too much about the consequences of loose children.

As a child I would travel in my father’s van which he used for outside catering, we were always loaded up with crockery and food for fetes and weddings. We would rush around country lanes me sitting precariously at the front with Dad who had trained me to redistribute my weight (and there wasn’t much of it) as we moved around the bends. This was a necessity because the sliding doors seldom worked and they would slide open on a left hand bend. The unprepared passenger could land in a ditch. No laughing matter, one of my dad’s fantastic army of helpers did actually forget the essential manoeuvre and landed up in a hedge. Undaunted she was plucked from the foliage and still fully able to serve the bridge-rolls.

It could be thought from this that my father was rather careless when it came to his daughter’s safety but I do remember how well he anticipated any sudden dangers. He would throw out a protective arm to stop me going through the window screen or pull me upright if I slipped towards the floor, where incidentally, as time passed there was a hole through which you could see the road. That being said, I like to think that my dad drove carefully when I was with him, he did not speed and always got me home in one piece.

These days vehicles are much faster and there is far more traffic on our roads, thankfully measures are constantly being taken to reduce the possibilities of injury and accidents. Children are now secured in seats and belts specifically designed for their height and weight. Getting children into this equipment can be quite challenging, but it is reassuring to know that everything is being done to keep them from harm. There are many dangers on today’s roads so many could be eradicated so it is essential that drivers are fully aware of the hazards when driving and when parking. People still do some very daft things; grabbing breakfast on the hoof, forgetting to fasten safety belts, using mobile phones, being too easily distracted - everyone needs to give a great deal more thought about the safety of their own children and the protection of other road users.

In particular the school-run can produce some hair-raising situations. Today’s parking restrictions can lead to frantic searches for a free spot from which children can be picked up or dropped off at their school. Parents with busy lives are often juggling a multitude of tasks including delivering their children to schools and nurseries. Many people are rushing around to see that everyone is placed at school and playgroup in time for them to get to get to their own work place.

The roads near to schools are noticeably more hectic at the beginning and end of the school day. I have received a number of calls about the dangers and this has prompted me to start by writing to the schools that were mentioned.

Some drivers will throw away the rule book and park close to junctions, on the pavement, along verges, they may even double park in the street or slip-in near to the school gates even if it is clearly marked as a ‘no go’ zone. This lack of consideration is dangerous and where laws are being broken it should be reported. Bad parking can block sight lines for children, pedestrians and cyclists.

Local schools certainly do try to keep parents alert to the dangers but perhaps more could be done to keep that message at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It would be good to see teachers, parents, councils, local residents and the police working closely together to find solutions which will reduce the risks around schools and also to find ways to ensure that all drivers take their responsibilities far more seriously.

Teaching children about the dangers on our modern roads is a good start but we need to be certain that all road users are constantly alert to the hazards.

Christine Costin is a district councillor for Trafalgar Ward (Horsham Town) and former chairman of Horsham in Bloom