Our View: Think safety; it’s back-to-school time

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With the streets of the Santa Clarita Valley about to be flooded with thousands of students heading back to school, the results of this week’s Sheriff’s Department “Pedestrian Safety Operation” are discouraging, if not downright alarming.

The “sting” operation dresses up a traffic or crime prevention deputy in civilian clothing and has him/her cross the street at busy intersections. Motorists who fail to observe California Vehicle Code sections that protect pedestrian safety were cited during Wednesday’s operation held at two different locations.

Thirty-six citations were handed out to motorists during the sting this week – hardly an improvement over a similar sting conducted in March that netted 37 offenders.

So far it’s been a rough year on SCV streets, with motorist and pedestrian fatalities and injuries at an alarming rate. It follows a previous year also punctuated by the same problem.

The 2017 calendar began with a child hit by a truck in Acton on Jan. 2, followed by a pedestrian hit and injured in a Canyon Country intersection Jan. 5.

Crashes – both vehicle vs. pedestrian and vehicle vs. vehicle – continued, punctuated tragically July 4 with a double fatality in a head-on collision on McBean Parkway.

That crash killed Joel Thomas Godfrey, 34, and Collin Charles Gore, a well-liked 18-year-old who had just graduated from Hart High School. The speed of Godfrey’s BMW sedan was the focus of the investigation.

There followed an outcry in the community about speeding. Signal letters-to-the-editor writers and website posters called for the city to take action to solve the problem. Reduce the speed limits on major streets, they protested.

Others called for their fellow motorists to observe the existing speed limits, and still others vowed to never speed again.

But Wednesday’s Sheriff’s Department sting showed that while motorists may vow to drive more safely, many don’t do so.

Knowing the law is the responsibility of the driver, the state makes clear in its Vehicle Code. But it’s also the responsibility of pedestrians to ensure they are behaving responsibly, sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Shoemaker reminds those on foot.

“Pedestrians need to do their part by remaining alert when crossing and not being distracted by using their cell phone,” Shoemaker said. “You may have the right of way, but for your safety always make eye contact with the driver.”

The recent pedestrian sting operation was among several safety-oriented activities scheduled this week and next as students head back to school despite blistering-hot temperatures.

Dave Caldwell, spokesman for the William S. Hart Union High School District, reminded commuters and residents who live near campuses to plan ahead for increased traffic. Officials also urge motorists to note the school zone speed limits they may have forgotten during summer months.

Sheriff’s deputies have worked with school officials during previous years to design the safest route for parents delivering students to school – one that avoids dropping youngsters on the wrong side of the road and sending them across busy streets to reach campuses. Parents can contact schools for that information.

Many campuses have improved access thanks to Safe Routes to School grants secured by Santa Clarita. The federal program encourages students to walk or ride bikes to school, but it also attempts to ensure the safety of routes by making them as visible to motorists as possible.

Santa Clarita has successfully secured Safe Routes to School grants several years in a row and applied again for one in June.

At Castaic Union School District, the school year will be kicked off next Thursday with a Welcome Back Breakfast – and also a two-hour Active Shooter Drill.

Santa Clarita Valley drivers who would like to ensure they don’t receive a citation during the SCV Sheriff’s Station’s next Pedestrian Safety Operation should check out Sections 21949-21971 of the California Vehicle Code, which is posted online.

If you’re a parent of a high school student who will be driving soon, it’s particularly advisable to review those sections.

Do it for Jennifer Stift, a 17-year-old Saugus High School senior who was out jogging near her Saugus-area home in August 2014 when she was hit by a car and killed.

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