At my son’s school, fourth grade is the year that students are allowed to start walking home on their own. Teachers are no longer required to make sure that kids are dismissed into the waiting arms of a designated guardian. At the end of the day, if they haven’t gone off on a bus, or to an after-school program, kids are allowed to be set free — on their own.
A bunch of fourth-graders have started walking home this year. Many have been doing it for months already.
Not my son.
We live within walking distance of my son’s school — in fact, it’s right on our street. Believe me, I had grand plans to teach him to walk home from school. We were in talks about how to make it happen — what we would need to do to practice, what signs he would need to exhibit to show me he was ready.
But it is almost the end of the school year, and I will freely admit that I still have not let him walk home yet.
Yes, he’s the kind of kid with his head in the clouds sometimes, but I fully trust him to concentrate on something serious when the task is at hand. And it’s not because I am a nervous, overprotective mother — I think I’m pretty average in that department.
Nope, it’s not him. It’s not me. It’s you.
Yes, you — all you absentminded, speeding-to-work, face-glued-to-your-phone-while-you-are-driving-in-school-zones, a-hole drivers. You are the reason I will not allow my sweet, responsible 10-year-old son to walk the three blocks from our house to his school.
To give some context, I should explain that not only is my street in a school zone, but it is also a commuter hub. As we walk, there are commuters walking with us (often running at top speeds to catch a train). But the walkers are not the problem.
To get from our house to my son’s school, we have to pass a train station during rush hour. Right next to the station is a parking lot where commuters leave their cars. Almost every day, one of these commuters whizzes into the parking lot at a ridiculous speed, and almost every day, I find myself frantically placing an arm in front of my kids, urging them to slow down, just so we can let this asshole speed into a parking lot to catch his goddamn train. The safety of children takes a backseat to his schedule. (Has anyone heard of planning ahead and giving yourself enough time to catch a train?!)
After we pass under the train station’s tunnel, we are at a major intersection, where commuters are dropped off and where school parents often congregate so they can make a U-turn out of the dead-end where the school is.
And yes, this is another spot where I very often have to scream at my kids to stop walking all of a sudden just because some minivan driving mom who is texting someone about cupcakes for a school party does not see us and is speeding through a stop sign.
I’m sorry to be shouting, but I’m not sure what else I can do.
Parents speeding through stop signs and crosswalks, in school zones, without ever looking up from their phone. Why? Why? Why don’t people understand that cars are like the most dangerous apparatuses out there? Don’t get me wrong: Cars are one of humankind’s most amazing inventions. There is no way that we would have modern life without them. But why don’t people understand how very, very careful one must be in order to operate one? And especially in a neighborhood that houses a school where over 200 kids congregate each day?
If you don’t know the statistics on car safety (or lack thereof), I’m going to do you a favor and hit you with some scary-ass shit. According to the CDC, 5,376 pedestrians were killed in car crashes in 2015. That averages to about 1.6 pedestrian death per hour, folks, so if you don’t think these kinds of things happen very often, you are just wrong. Our oldest citizens account for the highest number of pedestrian deaths, followed closely by our youngest citizens. In 2015, 1 in every 5 pedestrians killed in car accidents were kids. Let that sink in for a second.
Almost half of all pedestrian deaths are alcohol-related, either on behalf of the driver or pedestrian. The majority of pedestrian deaths happen at non-intersection crossings (80%, according to Safe Kids Worldwide), and speeding drivers are much more likely to cause accidents and/or severe injuries.
Additionally, the CDC reports that about eight people are killed each day (and over a thousand injured) by distracted drivers — meaning drivers who are otherwise engaged. (I’m looking at you, fucking texters. I seriously can’t with you people — nothing you are texting about is as important as the safety of others around you.)
I know these all seem like no-brainers, right? Don’t drink and drive, don’t speed, and if you are a pedestrian, make sure you cross at the appropriate intersection and aren’t intoxicated yourself. And for the love of everything that is sacred, stop texting while freaking driving! No excuses. Just stop.
But I don’t have to tell you how many bozos completely disregard some of the most basic safety precautions, and risk their lives or the lives of others on a daily basis, right? Because we all see these people every day, especially we parents who can summon the wrath of God anytime a driver isn’t driving anything but extremely carefully near our precious cargo.
As for my son walking to school, I might start letting him do it next year, though I’ll probably spend at least a few months lingering a block or two behind him, watching him go, and making sure he is super-duper, ridiculously mindful of everything going on around him.
I recently read that children aren’t developmentally able to judge the speed and distance of moving vehicles until the age of 10 anyway, so given that he only turned 10 a few months ago, I feel justified in just starting the process now, and letting him do it on his own only when I feel that he’s 1000% ready.
All I ask is that all the drivers out there do their part too. There is almost nothing so important (including being late for work or missing a meeting) that you need to speed through a residential neighborhood, especially one frequented by kids.
And there is never, ever an excuse for texting while driving. I have zero-tolerance for that shit.
Please remember, we are talking about the lives of our fellow citizens here, young and old. Seriously, nothing is more important than them.