Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lives at risk from drivers texting, eating, reading...

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IN the hour before the start of class at three elementary schools Thursday morning, 1,050 clueless drivers broke the law or drove so poorly that children's lives were put at risk.

"We saw people talking on cellphones. We saw people texting. We saw one individual reading the newspaper while driving, if you can imagine that," CAA Manitoba president Mike Mager said.

In the hour before classes started, CAA and police observers in just three school zones watched drivers put on makeup, eat, make 40 illegal turns, and drive past the designated stop line in front of schools where kids were crossing 105 times. One woman talked on a cellphone while three children sat in the back -- without wearing their seatbelts.

With all the attention that's been heaped on unsafe driving in school zones, and the penalties for using cellphones or texting while driving, Mager said he's "very surprised at the incidents of distracted driving."

It's the second year CAA Manitoba and the police have staked out school zones, and they saw twice as many incidents as last year, though they had more observers this year. They were stationed around Carpathia School in west River Heights, Archwood School in St. Boniface, and Ecole Lacerte in Windsor Park.

Mager said 84 vehicles were speeding, including a school bus doing 65 in a 60 km/h zone.

Nine drivers put on makeup, two had dogs in their laps, 119 changed lanes illegally, 182 were distracted while driving, and one had to stand on the brakes after failing to notice the car ahead had signalled a turn.

"We saw... very dangerous examples of risky and downright reckless behaviour," Mager said.

The city is reducing the speed limit to 30 km/h in school zones, but won't start erecting traffic signs until the province passes the necessary legislation, a city official said recently.

Police didn't issue tickets Thursday morning, Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel said. "Our goal in traffic enforcement is to change behaviour," he said. "We should be that much more cautious when we're operating our vehicle in and around schools."

Mager and Riffel said they saw few examples of parents driving improperly while dropping off children.

Archwood School principal Jack Fraser said: "The three things I see most are red-light running, excessive speed, and I'm getting reports from parents of distracted drivers."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2012 A4

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