A new school year is beginning and it's time to adjust your driving habits when approaching, going through and exiting a school zone.
It's also time for me to keep a promise I made years ago to a longtime school crossing guard.
Lower speeds and more traffic congestion are two certainties around schools. It's for the safety of the children as well as the adults.
Whether you live in a big city or a small community, school zones require extra attention.
A traffic officer once told me that drivers should slow down as soon as they see a school zone sign ahead, not as they pass it.
The zone is enforced from sign to sign — if you wait until you get to the first one to slow down, you won't make it.
The officer also said increasing your speed should not take place until after you pass the last sign. That's when you officially leave the zone.
Know your route; know the location of the school zones. And obey them. The results of not doing so can be very expensive ... and dangerous.
Now, the promise.
I had been writing this column less than a month when I got a call from "John."
"Every year when school starts, I see the same thing, and I have to tell 'em to 'slow down,'" he told me.
"People hurry through (school crossings), don't pay attention. ... I just hope and pray somebody don't get hurt."
John told me about several close calls he had witnessed or experienced in more than 20 years on the job near an Oklahoma City elementary school.
"Too many" close calls, he said.
His voice was somewhat shaky, but his recollection was clear and crisp. He described incidents in such detail that I easily could visualize a vehicle speeding past, hear the sound of the engine, or the squeals of the children.
John said, on many occasions, he had fallen back to a curb, pulling a child to him, when drivers did not obey school zone signs. He said he often didn't even have time to get a tag number.
He said he did pass along a word or two, however, to those who came close to hitting a child at his crossing.
He talked to the children, particularly the youngest, who came to his crossing, teaching them to wait patiently for him to give them the OK to proceed.
He told me it made his day when they thanked him and told him they would see him again the next day.
Then, he asked that I remind the motoring public to watch out for the children. I promised I would.
He never gave me his last name. I never got his phone number. He never wrote me. This was the way he wanted it. He just told me to expect the call and the chat again next year.
He did so for about the next five years. Then, the calls stopped. It was much later that I heard from a school official that a certain crossing guard had passed away.
I still miss his calls. But neither he nor his message is forgotten. It's still loud and clear, for all of us: "School's startin' again, so ... watch out for the kids."
Here's a special "thank you" in advance to all those who help our children through the school crossings.
John would be proud of you.
Enjoy your week and drive safely.