Car Control Clinic, Part II: The School Parking Lot

April 29, 2013 by V.R.M. - No Comments

Here we are, about 6 weeks away from the end of the school year, and some parents at my girls’ primary school have yet to figure out how to navigate around the school parking lot at drop-off and pick-up times. It’s time for an intervention.

Perhaps a diagram would help parents with the drop-off process...(image courtesy of the Clara Barton Open School)

Perhaps a diagram would help parents with the drop-off process…(image courtesy of the Clara Barton Open School)

Every year at the beginning of the school year, the principal at our little parochial school, Ms. F., spends quite a bit of time talking to parents about how to best navigate our school parking lot. The school is small, and the parking lot was originally designed to accommodate the Catholic Church next door. Considering the kids’ safety, school officials have sought to create a safe drop-off/pickup area for the mornings and afternoons, and have determined a variety of traffic rules that, if followed, should both keep kids safe and the traffic flowing.

I’m pretty sure this master plan would work very well IF parents (and grandparents/sitters) indeed followed those guidelines. But it’s now late-April, and the parking lot continues to be a daily lesson in accident avoidance. Cars travel the wrong way, few use their turn signals, and mobile phone use is rampant, to name a few offenses.

Every parent I’ve met at my girls’ school has been kind and community-oriented. I’m fairly sure not one of the parents commits any of these “crimes” out of malice — we are all busy and just trying to get in and out of the school as quickly as possible. So, just for fun, and maybe because it will start a parking lot revolution, I’m going to list some of the driving behaviors I’ve noticed over the past year and see if we can all help eachother become better school parking lot drivers for the sake of our kids.

Drop-Off Offenses

Might as well be in a foreign language...

Might as well be in a foreign language…

Lack of turn signal use: Most mornings, I watch cars and figure out where they’re headed by looking at the attitude of their wheels. While I love a good game of charades, wouldn’t it be great if parents used their turn signals before making their move? With so much going on, why not let those behind (and in front of you)  know where you’re going next? Give your turn signals a try! They are still free.

Inappropriate speeds while driving around the parking lot: I love driving fast as much as the next person. However, the school parking lot is not the place to test your lead foot. Kids are notorious for not listening to their parents and darting off between cars. At drop-off times, kids are often listening to their parents, who are saying, “hurry!” so that they won’t be late. If you drive fast, the chances that you won’t be able to stop when a little person runs in front of you increase. Slow down.  No rushing is worth a terrible accident. You’ll still get to work on time.

Ignoring the crossing guard: every morning, rain or shine or snow or sleet, one of our gym teachers stands outside at the denominated crossing area attempting to regulate traffic and pedestrian flow. And every morning, a variety of parents crosses the cars’ path just a few feet down from where the crossing guard stands, ignoring his instructions and clogging up traffic. What’s worse than clogging up traffic? The offenders are teaching their children that it’s ok to ignore the crossing guard for their convenience, and that disrespecting their teacher is just fine. Two bad lessons in one. How about you walk the extra few feet, say hello to the guard, and cross when he says you can? It’ll be fun, I promise.

Turning left, ignoring the sign pleading parents not to do so: our school has a posted sign asking drivers to refrain from turning left when exiting the school parking lot during drop-off hours. Doing so causes outgoing and incoming traffic to come to a complete stop, clogging both the parking lot and the street leading into it. Everyone knows this rule, yet every morning I witness a certain someone turn left anyway (bonus: no turn signal used) because it is far more convenient for that person to inconvenience all others. You know who you are. It will take an additional 2.5 minutes to drive around to where you are allowed to turn left, and many parents will thank you for doing so.

Parking in clearly marked “no parking” areas on the street to avoid the parking altogether: I admit it — I  like to park on the street to avoid the snarl that is the parking lot, and I can understand why other parents would do so, too. But when you park in a corner painted yellow, or you park beyond the “do not park” sign, you’re impeding visibility and putting the kids who walk to school at risk. Also, you are clogging up traffic as other drivers are forced to squeeze past you to complete their right-hand turns. If you choose the street, yellow still means “do not park here.” And a sign with a “P” with a circle and a strike across means, “not for your car. Because we said so.”

Crimes at Pick-Up

By the time 3 o’clock rolls around, parents are usually more relaxed, which is a good thing. However, while the drop-off hour offers a drop-zone and crossing guard, the pickup time does not, so kids spill all over the parking lot, ducking around cars. Below are a few “crimes” a Mom I’ll call “M” and I have observed:

Moms, you know we all look like this when we drop off our kids...especially in the morning. (Image courtesy of

Moms, you know we all look like this when we drop off our kids…especially in the morning. (Image courtesy of

Rampant cell-phone use:  show up at 2:50 for pick up, and chances are you’ll witness over half of the moms driving into the parking lot while holding their phone in one hand and attempting to park their oversize vehicle with the other. The closer we get to dismissal  time, the faster the offenders drive in, phones still in hand. If you absolutely must take a call while in motion, may I suggest using a hands-free set? They come with most phones, free of charge. Also, they help you hear your conversation better and keep both hands on the wheel, which makes parking a great deal easier. Win-win!

Traveling the wrong-way at high speed: There is a sitter who drives into the school lot a few times per week, traveling way too fast, and going the wrong way. With kids approaching cars from everywhere, this is a recipe for disaster. I’m pretty sure it’s almost impossible to tell your sitter how to drive, but if you do have one, at the very least ask her to drive slowly when picking up your kids. We all thank you!

Idling while waiting for the children to emerge: I can understand that parents would want their cars to stay warm while they wait for their children to emerge from school, particularly if they have a baby or infant in the car. But if you have no baby, have an adequate coat, and don’t mind being a little cold for a bit, may I suggest you turn your car off? Why waste gas and create emissions in the air our kids will be breathing shortly? NPR recently mentioned that people living in the area by the Ambassador Bridge (on the MI/Canada border) have much higher rates of asthma hospitalizations. With warmer days ahead, roll down that window and enjoy mother nature’s fresh air!

Got any more examples of terrible school parking lot driving behaviors (including mine)? Tell me about them!