Pilot project tests stop sign with flashing light

Crossing guard Debbie Daniel and supervisor Kristine Preston, pictured with the new stop sign.

A pilot project will see Orillia’s crossing guards equipped with a flashing stop sign to increase visibility and act as an added alert to drivers. Crossing guard Debbie Daniel (left) and supervisor Kristine Preston have witnessed motorists texting while driving through school zones. – Frank Matys/Metroland

A handheld stop sign is a necessary tool of the trade for crossing guards, who count on its widely-recognized red-and-white surface to bring traffic to a halt.

Yet, too often, drivers are illegally flying past the people tasked with ensuring the safety of local students.

Often, these drivers are texting, said Debbie Daniel, who guards the intersection at Gill and Simcoe streets.

“Idiots,” said Daniel. “For the few seconds of waiting you are putting people’s lives at risk.”

The city is targeting this dangerous behaviour with a soon-to-be-launched pilot project that will equip crossing guards with a safety flash stop sign for improved visibility.

The 28-week trial study will start in early December, with guards testing out the flashing paddle in two-week rotations.

“We wanted to test the signs’ durability during extreme weather, particularly extreme cold,” said Kristine Preston, supervisor of Orillia’s crossing guards.

Local crossing guards have encountered “overzealous motorists or distracted motorists who, unfortunately, access the crosswalk when the crossing guard is attempting to cross pedestrians,” Preston said.

Those same concerns prompted local parent Kelly Tiffin to collect a petition urging the city to equip crossing guards with video cameras to record the licence plates of drivers who flout the law.

“They’ll zip right past and it doesn’t matter if there are kids in the road,” Tiffin said, pointing to a crossing on Fittons Road West at the rear of Orchard Park Public School as a concern. “I don’t know if they are rushing to get to Tim Hortons or where they are going.”

In a letter and accompanying petition bearing more than 80 names, Tiffin suggested arming crossing guards with small video cameras.

“Something like that would catch the car so that they could be further fined or whatever,” she added.

The trial project involving flashing stop signs is a step in the right direction, Tiffin added.

“When it is foggy or winter time or raining, I think it’s fantastic because then maybe they’ll see it and be more aware,” she said.

Crossing guards will complete a survey at the end of the trial period to determine the effectiveness of the flashing sign, which was donated by a supplier and can cost between $240 and $500, Preston said.

Survey results will be forwarded to the police board for consideration during budget discussions.

“We are hoping that at the end of the day that when the crossing guards provide feedback, that they’ll say it truly enhanced their safety as well as the safety of children, pedestrians, and motorists,” Preston said.

The upward motion of the crossing guard’s arm activates the battery-powered flashing signal, she added.

Under provincial law, drivers and cyclists must stop and yield the entire roadway at pedestrian crossovers, school crossings, and intersections when crossing guards are present.

Only when pedestrians and crossing guards are safely on the sidewalk can drivers and cyclists proceed.

Penalties for breaking the law range from $150 to $500 and three demerit points.

Fines are doubled in community safety zones and near schools.

Source: Simcoe.com