Police chief shares back to school safety tips

As we start the new school year, we look forward to the opportunities to learn and grow that are afforded our children in the Greenwich schools. In the Heavey house, both of our kids will be headed to middle school, which will help with the juggling we did when they were at different schools.

The safety of our children is our responsibility, but everyone can do things to keep all our kids safer. The Greenwich police will be out in force at and near schools to enforce speed limits and other traffic safety laws in the coming weeks. Please remember that we all need to stop when school bus lights are flashing and the stop sign is out. Even emergency vehicles have to stop. In addition to the fine being considerable, a ticket for this is $450, there is a real potential for disaster.

One of the most significant things we do as parents is to set a good example. Our children learn by watching us.

Small things can make a huge difference in what our kids learn. Always wear your seat belt. Younger kids should be in a car seat until they are four years old and at least 40 pounds. The law says that older children should be in a car booster seat until they are at least 60 pounds and 7 years old, but AAA recommends the longer you can keep them in one, the better.

If your child is not yet 12, he or she belongs in the back seat by law. A young child allowed to ride in the front seat is exposed to a much higher probability of significant injury should there be a collision. I know they want to be up front and, yes, sometimes it might be easier, but you are the parent.

For some of us, the alarm clocks have been off or set for a later time. As the school year starts, allow sufficient time to get everyone out of the house. Being in a hurry often leads to dangerous consequences.

When you go to school, plan ahead. Expect that there will be less than sufficient parking, especially on open house nights. Car pool with neighbors and come early. Whatever time you arrive do not park in the fire lane or where you will block emergency vehicle traffic, regardless of the time of day. And for the record, handicapped parking spaces are reserved for those with a permit only and are in effect 24/7. Please leave them for those who need them.

When your child approaches driving age, please strongly consider taking the AAA Dare to Prepare class with your child. This program, supported by the Greenwich Police Department, informs parents and children age 14 and 15 about the responsibilities of becoming a driver even before they get their permit. During the permit process, and even after they have their license, spend time continuing to teach them good driving habits.

For your high school-age children, the learning should not stop when it comes to safety. It’s hard to believe, but you can see new drivers leaving Hillside Road with no seat belts and talking on the phone while trying to drive. Before anyone thinks I am picking on the high school kids, we also see parents going in and out of almost every school in town on the phone as well. Hang up the cell phone and safely drive your car. As I said before, your children learn by watching you.

For four years now, Connecticut has restricted licenses for young people and this has resulted in a 34% reduction in collisions involving these young people. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds have restrictions on times when they can drive, with a few exceptions like work, school and emergency volunteer and Safe Rides. Those with restricted licenses are also not allowed to have other passengers in the vehicle for a period of time. The distraction of each added passenger increases the chance of a collision by 20%.

Please consider a contract with your child about driving responsibly, especially when it comes to alcohol. AAA and the Connecticut DMV have samples on their websites. When it comes to driving and teens, the law is “zero tolerance.” Have a plan to safely assist your child if they get into a dangerous situation and need a ride for any reason. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds. Most teen crashes occur in the first two years of driving. The first six months of driving is the most dangerous time.

Texting while driving has also become a threat to the safety of our kids. Get them to put down the electronics and talk to them about that as well.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is our time. We are all busy but the more involved you can be with your children, the greater strength they will have as adults. We want to thank all the parent volunteers in town who contribute so much time to making Greenwich a great place to grow up.

Have a safe and happy school year. If you have questions about traffic laws or about the safety programs offered at the Greenwich Police Department, please contact the Traffic Section at 203-622- 8015.

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