It's that time of year again. Our kids are back at school. Our streets are crowded with school buses and students walking to school. During this time of year, every driver has to mentally prepare him or herself for the slower speeds and inevitable driving delays that accompany our morning and afternoon commutes.

As many of you know from years past, the Newburyport Police Department will be out in force in the school zones throughout the school year in order to ensure the safety of our pedestrians, as well as our drivers. The school zone traffic begins at approximately 7 a.m. with the arrival of the high school students. Please be advised that the 20 mph school-zone speed limits will be strictly enforced at all of our city's seven schools. This includes all streets directly surrounding these schools. Many students arrive in the area prior to 7 a.m., so please be aware of all of the crosswalks. Students often cross at locations other than the designated crosswalks, so please be alert out there and keep those speeds down. Your ability to stop your vehicle depends on your speed and how soon you see the student crossing the street. Please familiarize yourself with these school zone locations, and regardless of the time of day, keep in mind that students may be in the area.

Our city's crossing guards are often victims of drivers who are not paying attention or who do not obey the signal to stop for kids in the crosswalks. Please use caution and stop when signaled. The police department will be working closely with the crossing guards to avoid these dangerous situations, and it will prosecute all those who do not obey the signal to stop. Most of the time, these situations can be avoided by simply heeding the 20 mph school-zone speed limit.

The city's police officers watch the school buses as they make their rounds picking up students. All too often, inattentive or careless drivers pass the school bus when its lights have been activated. It goes without saying that this is an extremely dangerous situation. If you are caught passing a school bus when its red safety lights are activated, your fine will be $250. A second offense for this violation (within two years of the first infraction) will cost you $1000 and a six- month revocation of your driver's license. The Newburyport Police Department works closely with the bus contractor (and its drivers) to enforce school bus violations. The bottom line? Let's all be looking for those buses! The bus may not stop where and when you expect it to. Keep far enough back so that you are able to react to what the bus is doing.

Parents, please remind your kids that motorists may not be familiar with our school zones. Ask them to be extra cautious on their way to school, using the crosswalks and the assistance of our dedicated crossing guards. Crossing at a location other than the designated crosswalks is dangerous for both students and drivers alike. A safe school year is everyone's primary goal.

One other topic I would like to touch on is that of residents' and visitors' bicycles being stolen in the city. We have noticed a sharp increase in these thefts lately, and want to let you know that the thieves are out there looking for your bike. Places such as the public library and other public locations, have become popular targets for thieves stealing bicycles. Your investment is worth it.

Until next month, be safe and be good to each other. Should you have any questions or comments concerning your police department or police activites in general, please contact me at wsteeves@cityofnewburyport.com, or my voice mail at 978-462-4411.

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Bill Steeves is a Newburyport police officer.

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