Cue the ‘Back to School’ song from the hit 1995 Adam Sandler film Billy Madison because the start of the 2023-24 school year is just around the corner.
Although classes have already resumed at Nelnah Bessie John School in Beaver Creek, thousands of other public school students across the territory will return to the classroom from Aug. 22-29.
The resumption of school means that motorists across the territory will again be encountering school buses, more traffic congestion and increased pedestrian traffic near schools. Local authorities are reminding drivers to exercise a renewed level of caution to ensure a safe start to the new school year.
“We all share responsibility for keeping students and bus drivers safe when they are on the road. It’s important that drivers use extra caution on the roads with kids heading back to school,” wrote a Highways and Public Works Department spokesperson in an email to the News.
After a hiatus for the summer, school zones will be back in effect when classes are in session, on Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Drivers must slow their speed to 30 kilometres per hour before entering a school zone.
During the academic year, school zones are not in effect outside of the above mentioned hours, on weekends, holidays and professional development days.
Cpl. Natasha Dunmall with Yukon RCMP Traffic Services says that some motorists think it is enough to simply take their foot off the gas when entering a school zone. This, however, is not the case.
“They hit the school zone, they’ve let off the accelerator, and they’re coasting through. So, by the time they get to the end of the school zone, that’s when they’re hitting 30,” she says, reminding Yukoners that they must be travelling at 30 kilometres per hour upon entering a school zone.
Near schools, motorists should remember to keep an eye out for students and other pedestrians crossing the street, both at crosswalks and unmarked sections of road.
Parents and others who need to park near a school should ensure their vehicle is no closer than 15 metres from and 10 metres past marked crosswalks. Stopping too close to a crosswalk is dangerous, as your vehicle may impede other drivers’ ability to see pedestrians.
“Those driving their children to school are reminded to only park in an appropriate, marked parking zone and use the available crosswalks to cross the road safely,” reads guidance provided by the Highways department spokesperson.
The Yukon’s Highways and Public Works department also reminds drivers that school buses in the territory regularly stop along highways and residential roads to pick up and drop off students. Children walking to board their bus or departing their bus to attend school may cross the road unexpectedly.
“When arriving at a bus stop, school buses come to a full stop in the right-hand lane and put out their stop signs with red flashing lights. Drivers travelling in both directions are required to stop so that it’s safe for children to cross the road,” according to the Highway’s spokesperson. This advice applies to all roads.
The only time drivers do not need to yield for a stopped bus is when they are travelling in the opposite direction of the bus and the road is divided by a ditch or meridian. In Whitehorse, notable examples of such roadways include Lewes Boulevard near Selkirk Elementary School, CSSC Mercier and F.H. Collins Secondary School in Riverdale and Whistle Bend’s Casca Boulevard.
There will be 43 school buses operating in Whitehorse on school days and 13 in Yukon communities, according to a spokesperson for the department of Education. These buses will run between 5 a.m. – 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Drivers are also being cautioned to watch for students on bicycles, slow down and give them ample space.
According to Dunmall, motorists in the territory can expect to see an increased police presence in the area around schools to ensure a safe start to the new school year. She notes that many school zones will have additional signage to remind people of the reduced speed limit with the resumption of classes.
“It’s the summertime, and people have been driving through [school zones] at regular posted speeds. So, in addition to school zone signs, you’ll see police vehicles in the school zone areas to remind motorists,” Dunmall says.
As the above mentioned safety tips imply, drivers should expect considerably more action on Yukon roadways starting next week, which means morning and afternoon commuters could experience delays.
“As we transition back to schools being in session, we recommend leaving earlier than normal so that drivers can safely accommodate school bus stops, children crossing the road and school zones,” according to the spokesperson at the Highways department.
Dunmall agrees, telling the News that commuters should give themselves plenty of time to get to work because the trip will be longer next week than it has been over the summer.
“A lot of people think that the road is a time machine — they leave two minutes late for work and think they can make it up on the road to get there in time. On top of that, now you’re going to add congestion […] You’re going to be later than you have been this week getting to work,” she says.
When asked for specific roads and areas in Whitehorse that commuters should be aware of ahead of the return to school, Dunmall highlights Hamilton Boulevard due to the traffic circle outside Elijah Smith Elementary School.
“The traffic circle is going to see more vehicle traffic. Buses, obviously, take up more room — the equivalent of a bus is about three vehicles in the traffic circle. So that’s going to cause back-ups,” Dunmall says.
She adds that Lewes Boulevard in Riverdale will likely see a notable increase in traffic congestion because the street hosts multiple schools. Downtown Whitehorse’s 4th Avenue is likewise expected to see delays due to its number of crosswalks and the fact many students will be walking to school.
Dunman also wants people to remember that school zone safety extends beyond the first week of school.
“While Aug. 22 is going to be a reminder for people that school zones are back, they’re going to be there until June 14, or whenever school is out, in 2024. This is now going to be the new norm for your commute.”
In Whitehorse, in addition to back-to-school vehicular and pedestrian traffic, drivers should remember ongoing construction on some main thoroughfares, such as Mountain View Drive and Range Road.
Asked if she has any final guidance for parents, students and other commuters with the return to school next week, Dunmall says, “Be courteous to each other.”
Contact Matthew Bossons at firstname.lastname@example.org