Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Parents who drop off or pick up their children at school might think the traffic is unusually hectic.
Drivers are parking on sidewalks, crosswalks, in residential driveways, roundabouts and turn lanes. Others are passing a slow or stopped car to end up in opposing traffic or slamming on the brakes to avoid a child walking in the street. And some are idling in traffic lanes, speeding and flipping U-turns.
It’s all there, said Clark County School District Police Sgt. Michael Campbell. But Campbell said the high volume that schools typically see in the first week of school — which he said officers try to cut some slack on as people adjust to the rhythms of school after the summer off — is lingering instead of dropping off.
He wouldn’t speculate on the more-intense traffic being related to the district’s continuing struggle with bus driver staffing, which has caused more parents to drive their kids to school. He just knows what he sees.
“It just hasn’t changed since the first week of school,” said Campbell, who leads the five-man motorcycle team that serves as the main traffic enforcement unit. “It’s like Groundhog Day.”
School police have written roughly 2,000 tickets just for moving violations so far this school year. For the same time frame in 2019, they had issued about 1,200 citations, Campbell said.
Also, at least 14 children have been hit by cars in school zones only 10 weeks into the current school year. Police typically hear about 20 to 30 child-car collisions in a full year, but they only know about the incidents that lead to a 911 call.
• Illegal in an active school zone: U-turns; passing; driving over 15 mph
• Illegal anywhere: stopping in a travel lane to pick up a child; not yielding right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks; crossing midblock (e.g., outside of a crosswalk or away from an intersection); stopping in or on a sidewalk, intersection or roundabout, on or within 5 feet of driveways, within 15 feet of fire hydrants, within 30 feet of stop signs, or alongside other parked cars on the side of the road.
Inconsiderate, illegal and potentially dangerous maneuvers boil down to selfishness, said Erin Breen, coordinator of the UNLV Transportation Research Center’s Traffic Safety Coalition.
Some of the added poor driving may be because of motorists slow to adjust to post-lockdown life, Breen said. For others, they simply always drive that way.
She said parents who break traffic laws know what they’re doing but they choose to risk it because they figure they won’t get cited. Because there aren’t enough police to cover every school every day, it’s probably a good guess that they won’t face consequences.
“What they’re really doing is playing Russian roulette with some child’s life,” Breen said. “And no one ever sees that.”
CCSD Police Lt. Ryan Zink sees this when people take umbrage after an officer stops them, saying their haphazard driving and parking have never been an issue before.
No, Zink said he’ll say, it’s always been a problem. They’re just finally getting caught.
“Sometimes they have a problem with that,” he said.
The school police department has about 160 officers, about 60 to 70 of them assigned to high schools all day to provide security. Another 36 are on roving patrol. This leaves a small group to focus on traffic at more than 300 schools countywide. Campbell and his motorcycle squad saturate a different school zone every Tuesday and Thursday, based on how many complaints each campus gets.
Last Thursday, the motorcycle crew set up a two-fer at Becker Middle and Lummis Elementary, which are half a mile apart in Summerlin. Officers wrote 20 tickets just to the morning drop-off crowd.
That was just who they snagged, but Becker and Lummis aren’t especially unique.
One of Campbell’s recent posts to the department’s Facebook page describing how his officers busted five cars at once for impeding traffic at an unnamed school led to a flood of comments from parents about how their schools, across the valley and at all levels, were just as bad.
“Pure chaos” at one Silverado Ranch elementary school, one commenter wrote. “You’d be handing out tickets like Oprah gave away Pontiacs G6s” at a high school on the northwest side, another said.
As a father of two, when Campbell hears about kids getting hurt, “I kind of take it more personally than I probably should.” He wonders if police can do more, and how.
He does know how motorists can help, though.
“Try to act like every kid in a school zone is your own kid,” he said.