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Drivers should be following school zone traffic rules

In September, children and teens headed back to their classes in Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood schools. Kids being kids, most of them were probably not focused on traffic safety.

They are school kids, and they deserve to be able to just be kids. That means it’s primarily up to adults and older teen drivers to take the lead in helping to keep them safe from the comings and goings of vehicles.

Local police officers and Washington County sheriff’s deputies are certainly doing their part. There were enhanced patrols around schools zones, with officers watching to ensure motorists honored crosswalks and respected the 20 mph speed limits. Officers also followed school buses to make sure drivers stopped when buses had their flashers going.

But the police can’t handle this task alone. It’s also the responsibility of every driver to not only know the rules of the road but to obey them fully.

According to Gayla Shillitto, crime analyst for the Tigard Police Department, the Tigard community deals with an average of 16 “car versus pedestrian” incidents every year. Most of them are not fatalities, but that is certainly no reason to be casual about pedestrian safety. In 2013, police have already responded to 11 injury crashes involving pedestrians.

Shillitto said that once a year, there is a death that results from a pedestrian being struck by a vehicle in the city of Tigard. That is one too many.

On Aug. 22, Barley, the whimsical mascot of the Hillsboro Hops minor league baseball team, showed up for a law enforcement detail on pedestrian safety. While Barley may be a silly character, the campaign he participated in is deadly serious.

During the crosswalk awareness event with Barley, it was interesting to note that every driver stopped when the quirky decoy — in a bright green costume — strolled through the crosswalk at an intersection. Yet for a common, run-of-the-mill pedestrian — who was actually a Hillsboro Police Department volunteer in civilian clothes — the response was not nearly as impressive.

In the three-hour crosswalk detail, 34 motorists did not follow the rules regarding crosswalk safety. Several times, the volunteer had to stop walking to avoid the risk of being hit as drivers sped toward the intersection or did not wait for her to safely reach the curb before bulling ahead. As a result, 19 of them took home well-deserved $260 tickets.

Similar crosswalk enforcement details at Tigard and Tualatin intersections have netted similar results, illustrating the need for motorists to put those smartphones down and pay attention.

Bravo to local police departments and to the Hillsboro Hops organization for stepping up to help highlight this essential safety program. Especially with the new school year now underway, area residents need to get back into the practice of watching out for youngsters on sidewalks, crossing streets and zipping along on bikes on their way to and from their schools.

To all drivers: The next time you’re in a hurry and you don’t want to slow down and be extra careful as you approach a crosswalk or a school zone or a school bus — or you think you won’t be distracted even though you’re using a cellphone or texting while driving — just remember: There is nothing more precious than a child’s life.