Letter: South County Parents Need To Drive By Example
Be safe out there!
Each morning, I travel out of Washington, D.C. on Rock Creek’s winding lanes, weave around the Pentagon and onto 395 South, traverse the chaos that is Springfield’s Mixing Bowl, where drivers jockey for position, and exit I-95 in Lorton to begin my day at South County Middle School as a teacher of tomorrow’s business, community, and industry leaders.
But as my commute nears its end on the streets around my schools’ campuses, I have one last traffic hurdle to face, and that hurdle constantly forces me to ask myself, “What kind of leaders will they become?”
Repeatedly, South County parents have been asked – through reason, and appeals to conscientious and responsible driving – to adhere to the Kiss and Ride policies communicated to them through Keep in Touch emails.
“Follow the routes marked.”
“Do not drop your students off along Laurel Crest Drive.”
“When exiting the Kiss and Ride area, please turn right only.”
On a daily basis, however, those of us who do follow these policies – most importantly, our newly-licensed high school students – watch as cars come to a rolling stop on Laurel Crest Drive, clog the bus lanes and road in front of the middle school, drop off their children, and dart back onto Laurel Crest or make a u-turn into oncoming traffic, all in a rush to get to their work or home or office.
The message these parents send their children is this:
“Ignore the fact that I am disrespecting the policies I’ve been asked to follow, and putting other students and parents in danger, and go into that school and obey every one of their rules.”
“Forget about the fact that, in a recent survey of 1,700 young drivers, it was determined that teens who engage in distracted and dangerous driving most likely learned their bad driving skills from their parents.”
The message these parents send the schools is equally as contradictory.
These same parents then are the first to complain about reckless driving in the area.
In efforts to make roads near today’s schools safer, we so often focus on the bad habits of inexperienced drivers, with their lack of driving etiquette, while conveniently overlooking where and how they adopt these dangerous driving practices in the first place. Impressionable drivers don’t adopt these practices; they learn them from watching those of you who blatantly ignore the safety policies South County has put in place for the well-being of us all.
To these parents, I have a message. When you stop on the side of Laurel Crest Drive because it’s convenient for you, when you take a left out of the school because only suckers obey the rules and turn right, when you ignore the safety and well-being of not only your children, but the children of parents who trust that their kids have a safe route on which to walk to school, because you think it’s harmless, you are doing more of a disservice to this community than you will ever know.
So, to be perfectly clear, your actions aren’t going unnoticed. You are interfering with my safe commute to school, and the safe commute of my fellow teachers and the students we teach. You are interrupting the buses’ access to South County buildings and endangering their drivers and passengers. You are jeopardizing the children with whose care we, as teacher, have been entrusted.
Imagine what the learning environments of South County Schools would be like if the thousands of students within their walls, like you, placed no value on the expectations of acceptable behavior.
I began this piece with my concern for what type of leaders these students will become. The constant presence of role models who respect their surroundings, as well as those who must operate within them, creates responsible leaders. The lack of that constant presence creates leaders who feel they are above reproach and out of the reach of consequences.
I leave you with the words of Dave Melton, a driving safety expert. "Your kids are always observing the decisions you make behind the wheel, and, in fact, have likely been doing so since they were big enough to see over the dashboard."
At least around my schools’ campuses, please make those decisions safe ones.
The author is a teacher and media liaison at South County Middle School.