Ocean County Press Release

IT WOULD SEEM like a no-brainer: Drivers need to stop when they approach a school bus with its red lights flashing.

"Yet year after year we still get reports of near tragedies when drivers pass a stopped school bus," said Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari. "I've seen it myself. It has to stop."

With summer quickly winding down and public schools set to open in early September, Vicari reminded drivers, students and parents to be cautious as the first day of school approaches.

"It only takes a moment for tragedy to strike," Vicari said. "Whether students take the bus, walk, ride a bicycle or are driven to school by their parents, there are safety rules everyone must follow," he said.

For motorists, safe driving begins before the car even reaches the street, he said.
"Even while backing out of your driveway you may encounter inattentive students walking or biking to school," Vicari, a lifelong educator, said.

Drivers must also be extra alert for lower speed limits near schools.

When approaching any intersection, pedestrian crossing or school zone, be alert, cover the brake and be ready to stop, he said.

"Take a hard look," Vicari said. "Look, and then look again, for the child hidden by parked cars, shrubbery or high grass, trees, or poles. Even mailboxes can obscure a child, if only for a moment."

Watch for the "darting child" who runs into the roadway chasing a ball or some other object, he said.

He also urged students to use extra caution and carefully check for any moving traffic when they exit a school bus.

"Never trust a vehicle to stop just because the bus is flashing its red warning lights. Always look both ways before crossing the street after stepping out of the school bus," Vicari said.

Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines added that children walking or biking to school should always follow the same route and avoid short cuts.

Haines said children should walk in groups and pay attention to any hazards along the way, such as road construction or even barking dogs.

Parents can also take other steps to protect their children.

The Megan's Law database is updated throughout the year and lists any convicted sex offenders that may be living nearby.

Towns, counties, zip codes and even individual streets can be easily reviewed.

More advanced checks allow users to input the names of convicted sex offenders or check only newer records.

"This only takes a few minutes and can make a big difference in keeping a child safe," said Freeholder Deputy Director John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety.

Kelly also suggested periodically checking the Megan's Law database throughout the year.
"It's important to know what dangers a child may encounter when they travel to and from school," he said. "It's also essential that they learn to avoid strangers and how to react if they are approached by an adult they do not know."

The database can be accessed through a link on the Ocean County Government Homepage at www.co.ocean.nj.us.

On a lighter note, Vicari also suggested that families support local businesses when it comes time to stock up on pencils and notebooks for the new school year.

"Our local businesses offer everything for school shopping, whether it is that perfect lunchbox for your first grader or a new laptop for a student heading off to college," Vicari said. "Keep a friend or neighbor working. Buy local."

Shopping locally has other advantages over ordering online or through a catalog.

"When you buy local, you are protected against fraud," Vicari said.

For example, if a computer bought locally doesn't work and a customer has a problem returning it, the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs can help.

However, the department can do less if an item is purchased from online and from out of the area.

"Buy local and have confidence in your purchases," said Vicari, who is also Chairman of Consumer Affairs.

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