Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2019

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Las Vegas-area crossing guards pave the way for student safety

Crossing Guard Francisco Esteban

Justin M. Bowen

Crossing Guard, Francisco Esteban, stops traffic allowing children to safely cross the street in front of McCall Elementary School in North Las Vegas Wednesday, June 1, 2011.

Some local thoroughfares—with their wide, multiple lanes and high speed limits—are designed for drivers to navigate through the vastness of the rolling desert. But that means they can be a hazard for pedestrians.

In Nevada, 353 pedestrians died and 720 were seriously injured from 2012 to 2016, according to a report by Zero Fatalities, Drive Safe Nevada.

The elderly and the young are most at-risk, said Erin Breen, director of UNLV’s Vulnerable Road Users Project. “Children don’t have the body mass to absorb the impact and the elderly are fragile,” Breen continued.

Did you know?

When driving 40 mph, a driver must be within 100 yards of a pedestrian to see him or her.

That makes crossing guards especially important for helping students in the Clark County School District get safely to and from their schools.

In the morning before classes start, and late in the afternoon, 60-year-old Lola Winbush leads students of Gene Ward Elementary School from one side of the street to the other. For eight years, five days a week during the school year, she stands vigilant on the corner of East Hacienda Avenue and South Maryland Parkway.

“I come to this corner with the mind of safety, making sure no one gets hurt, making sure I’m training the kids on how to cross the street and just making sure they know the procedures so they can be safe themselves,” Winbush said.

Most days, it goes smoothly. Students and parents greet her affectionately before trotting to their destination. But, there are times when a driver isn’t paying attention or runs a red light or a child skips into the street. Those are the moments when Winbush hurries into action.

“I noticed a car coming really fast and knew they would keep going [even though] the light had changed,” Winbush said. “My children were going to cross, and I had to say, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no.’ That car tore through there. … Lives were saved that day, simply because the children listen to me.”

What it takes to be a crossing guard

Pedestrian danger by the numbers

• 1 of 10 pedestrians hit will die in a vehicle crash of 20 mph

• 9 of 10 pedestrians hit will die in a vehicle crash of 40 mph

• In 2016, 57 pedestrians were killed when hit by a vehicle in Las Vegas

• In 2017, 78 pedestrians were killed when hit by a vehicle in Las Vegas

• In 2018, 62 pedestrians were killed when hit by a vehicle in Las Vegas

All crossing guards in the Las Vegas Valley, 675 to 700 at a given time, are employed through All City Management Services (ACMS), the largest provider of school crossing guards nationally. The company took over duties locally from Metro Police more than a decade ago and has contracts with four Valley municipalities.

Crossing guards with ACMS must pass a physical exam, a background check by the Department of Homeland Security and undergo extensive training with a supervisor before they can work locally, said Paul Kmetz, regional manager for ACMS.

Pay ranges from $9.25 to $9.75 per hour, depending on the municipality, and guards are paid 2.5 to 3 hours per shift.

For safety and legal reasons, each crossing guard is required to have a million-dollar insurance policy. In the instance that tragedy strikes, it ensures that municipalities and ACMS have the funds to pay victims, Kmetz continued.

There are volunteers who act as crossing guards, but their duties are limited to school parking lots.

While efforts are regularly discussed to improve pedestrian safety on a larger scale and include crosswalks, lights, bike lanes and narrower traffic lanes, crossing guards, such as Winbush, ensure the safety of Las Vegas schoolchildren.

“I take pride in being at work every day,” Winbush said. “My kids see me every day. If I take time off, they say ‘Miss, where were you?’ That fills my heart that they care that I’m here.”

How do they decide where to put crossing guards?

All City Management Services partners with the local municipalities, not the school district, to determine where to place crossing guards, and engineers scout the schools' parameters to see where they may be needed. Crossing guards are only assigned to elementary schools. In some instances, middle schools are close enough to an elementary school that a crossing guard can help both student populations, said Dan Kulin, a public information officer for Clark County.

Driver safety tips for school zones

1. Plan alternate routes: Drivers frustrated with school zones can plan alternative routes to avoid congestion. School zones and crossing zones are in effect 30 minutes before the start of school and after the day ends, or when children are present. Schools at all levels vary at the times they get out, so it's best to learn the hours of schools on your route.

2. Don’t drive distracted: It’s especially important when driving near schools and other areas where children are present. They’re not always aware of the consequences that can happen when crossing a road, said Erin Breen, director of UNLV’s Vulnerable Road Users Project.

3. Be careful making a right turn: While you can make a right turn on a red light, drivers often pay close attention to other drivers and forget that pedestrians might be crossing the street. It's best to keep a watchful eye for both.

4. Drive safely even outside of school zones: Many students’ routes home are outside of school zones. Even if the school zone ends or it’s after hours, youngsters can still be walking.

5. Don’t encourage students to jaywalk: Parents picking up their students will often encourage their child to cross outside of a crosswalk, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous, Breen said.

Safe Routes to School

The Clark County School District, UNLV's Vulnerable Road Users Project and local municipalities partner on the Safe Routes to School program, an international initiative that encourages children to walk and bike on their daily commute to school. The program teaches students how to walk or ride to school safely through education, encouragement, enforcement of laws and more. The program is federally funded, and the district and its partners help parents find safe routes to school. To find a route for your child, or learn more, visit here.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.