Traffic Safety Remains Problematic


“Have a safe trip!”

Everyone has either heard or said this phrase to a loved one, a friend, or just a plain stranger going somewhere special. Occasionally, we stop and think about what the true implications are.

As many of us know, Mitty freshman Loukas Angelo passed away from a fatal car accident last month. Despite Mitty being a rival school, the students of Presentation have united to honor the memory of Loukas. While the student body has remembered him through a prayer service, a card, and a fundraiser, we have failed to highlight the real cause of the issue: traffic safety.

The flow of traffic around school zones in general is often terrifying. Drivers, walkers, and bikers all converge onto one block at the same time, often rushing because they’re late. The complaints about school zones are frequent and vociferous in the Mercury News’ Roadshow column.

In a letter to Mr. Roadshow, reader Penny Bowen wrote, “It’s the cell-phone talkers who really chap my hide. Of all the places! Kids darting here and there, car doors opening and children jumping out, book bags or lunches being dropped and picked up. One morning, I saw a dad texting while driving down the street while school was on. Texting, Mr. Roadshow! With his child in the car while classmates were running to and fro. Oh, I’d never wanted a cop’s ticket book so badly in my life.”

In another, reader Alan Wright noted, “I have observed speeding, ignoring crosswalks and almost running down people in crosswalks. Stopping in red zones, stopping to let passengers out in the middle of the street, illegal U-turns, use of private property to park and/or turn. Ignoring stop signs. Impatient use of the horn. Not letting people out of parking spaces and blocking traffic in a variety of ways. Talking on cellphones while driving is the worst of all.”

While these letters were not about Pres, they could have been. With nearby schools St. Christopher and Willow Glen High all starting within 30 minutes of each other, traffic around Curtner and Plummer is heavy and often dangerous. Inattentive parents, new student drivers, and pedestrians trying to make it to class before the 7:45 bell only exacerbate a stressful situation.

In an effort to curb risks of future accidents, the Presentation administration has tried to send messages via the school bulletin to remind parents about maintaining good driving habits. The first reminder to parents regarding traffic safety appeared in the August 17 parent bulletin, which reminded the parents and students that they would issue one-hour detentions if drivers did not abide by the rules of the road.

The reasoning for most of these detentions are the actions of the parents, not the students themselves. Vice Principal of Student Services Susan Mikacich, who often has traffic duty before and after school,  frequently observes less-than-desireable driving habits of frantic parents. “They park or stop in red zones. Parents will stop at the corner with the back end of their car blocking half of the northbound lane of Plummer. They have no idea the back up they cause,” she says.

In addition to not obeying the safety measures set by Presentation, parents often pull out their phones, a habit that nationwide causes 1.6 million crashes each year. College counselor and fellow traffic enforcer MaryLynne Rodriguez says, “I see a lot of distractions with cell phone use, which inhibits the quick, free-flow traffic.

But students don’t get a pass, either–according to a AAA poll, 35 percent of teen drivers admit to texting while driving, even though nearly all acknowledged the dangers of doing so. And despite what they think, they’re not better at texting and driving than their parents–last year, 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones.

At Pres, especially after school, it’s likely that student drivers who text are doing so to update their parents. According to a study from Liberty Mutual Holding and Students Against Destructive Decisions, more than half of teens confessed to texting while driving to update their parents, and 19 percent said moms and dads expected a response within one minute.

“We have a generation of parents that are used to being very connected with their children,” Stephen Wallace, chief executive officer of SADD, said in an interview. “They’re looking for that constant communication.”

Unfortunately, neither parents nor student drivers seem to be getting the message to be more careful. An email blast to parents on October 2 expressed the school’s frustration: “Today, morning drop off was less than ideal.  Parents, we are appealing to you to follow the guidelines below to ensure the safety of your daughter as well as all Presentation High School students and those who live in the neighborhood  … Our intention is to keep everyone safe and we need your help in doing so.”  

A week later, the following email was sent: “Parents, student safety is very important to us and we have been communicating with your daughters about taking caution when crossing the street in front of campus as well as in the surrounding neighborhood.  After school is dismissed, many students walk to Foxworthy Plaza to go to Starbucks, Zanotto’s and other business.  Please reinforce at home about taking care when crossing the street such as using crosswalks, stop and looking both ways before crossing, no texting while walking and removing earbuds.”

Last month, a particularly close call after school almost ended in tragedy for a Pres student. Mikacich recalls: “A student did not use the crosswalk and walked in between two parked construction trucks to cross the street.  She stepped out into traffic to cross the street because her parent waved to her to cross and get into the car.  An unsuspecting car who had the right of way and could not see the student in between the two trucks, barely missed hitting the student.”

Yet students continue to ignore warnings. Rodriguez says, “A few students have been upset with me for telling them to go back into the crosswalk, but it’s so important. It takes a few extra minutes to wait to cross, but it’s so important in terms of safety.”

So besides continuing to educate parents and students on proper safety measures and issuing a sea of pink detention slips, what more can be done?

According to Mikacich, Presentation has requested that the city of San Jose designate Plummer Avenue as a 15 MPH zone.  They have also implemented a right-turn-only sign on the south driveway to make it safer and easier to exit campus.  

Ultimately, of course, signs, red zones, and traffic coordinators can only do so much. It’s up to the Pres community to commit to change.

“Slow down on the streets,” pleads Rodriguez. “There’s no rush. You have to slow down and be very aware.”