OCEAN COUNTY – It’s a parent’s favorite time of year: back to school for the kids. But Ocean County officials are reminding drivers and parents to keep their heads on straight while school buses make their way back onto local roadways.
It is important to remember that drivers must stop for a school bus with its red lights flashing.
“Yet year after year we still get reports of near tragedies when drivers pass a stopped school bus,” said Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari. “I’ve seen it myself. It has to stop.”
As the first day of school approaches, officials are urging caution.
“It only takes a moment for tragedy to strike,” Vicari said. “Whether students take the bus, walk, ride a bicycle or are driven to school by their parents, there are safety rules everyone must follow.”
Drivers should take note of lower speed limits near schools and be on the lookout for pedestrians in a school zone.
“Take a hard look,” Vicari said. “Look, and then look again, for the child hidden by parked cars, shrubbery or high grass, trees, or poles. Even mailboxes can obscure a child, if only for a moment.”
Vicari also noted that a driver must be aware before they even leave the driveway.
“Even while backing out of your driveway you may encounter inattentive students walking or biking to school,” he said.
For students, it is important to check for traffic when stepping off the school bus.
“Never trust a vehicle to stop just because the bus is flashing its red warning lights. Always look both ways before crossing the street after stepping out of the school bus,” Vicari said.
Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines provided a few tips for children walking or biking to school: always follow the same route, avoid short cuts, walk in groups and pay attention to any hazards along the way.
Officials also remind parents that they can do their part to protect the children by checking up on The Megan’s Law database for information on any convicted sex offenders that may be living nearby. Towns, counties, zip codes and even individual streets can be easily reviewed.
“This only takes a few minutes and can make a big difference in keeping a child safe,” said Freeholder Deputy Director John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety.
Kelly also suggested periodically checking the Megan’s Law database throughout the year, as it is continuously updated.
“It’s important to know what dangers a child may encounter when they travel to and from school,” he said. “It’s also essential that they learn to avoid strangers and how to react if they are approached by an adult they do not know.”
You can access the database through the Ocean County Government Homepage at co.ocean.nj.us.
Lastly, keep in mind those local businesses when shopping for school supplies this year.
“Our local businesses offer everything for school shopping, whether it is that perfect lunchbox for your first grader or a new laptop for a student heading off to college,” Vicari said. “Keep a friend or neighbor working. Buy local.”
Shopping local can also protect against fraud, with help from the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs.