Crossing guards in Wilmot are facing risks from dangerous drivers

Speeding and distracted driving a regular occurrence near crosswalks.

  • Community   Sun, Nov 8th, 2020   Nigel Gordijk
Crossing guards Joan Grosso and Marilyn Lindner at the Peel Street crosswalk in New Hamburg. “I’m getting a lot of speeders,” said Lindner, who thinks that many drivers don’t understand the rules of the road.

Crossing guards Joan Grosso and Marilyn Lindner at the Peel Street crosswalk in New Hamburg. “I’m getting a lot of speeders,” said Lindner, who thinks that many drivers don’t understand the rules of the road.

In January, Baden crossing guard Marilyn Lindner was struck by a driver on the Sir Adam Beck Public School crosswalk. She had stopped the traffic and helped children across the street, but when she turned towards the sidewalk, a driver moved into her path. The car’s bumper clipped her knee, knocking her to the ground. Thankfully, she wasn’t badly injured.

“They don’t realize that they have to wait until the crossing guard is off the street, too,” she said.

She narrowly avoided a similar incident at the same crossing last week. A driver ignored her “Stop” sign and went through the crossover without even slowing down.

“I get one like that every two to three weeks,” she said, estimating that there have been four similar episodes already since the start of the current school year.

“I’m getting a lot of speeders,” said Lindner, adding that many drivers don’t understand the rules of the road when it comes to school crossings.

According to the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO):

“Drivers - including cyclists - must stop and yield the whole roadway at pedestrian crossovers, school crossings and other locations where there is a crossing guard. Only when pedestrians and school crossing guards have crossed and are safely on the sidewalk can drivers and cyclists proceed.”

It’s thanks to guards like Lindner that no children have been involved in any road incidents.

“If the cars aren’t stopping, they’re to remain at the sidewalk, until I’m sure the way is safe for them to cross,” she said.

Lindner thinks that installing roadside flashing amber lights to alert drivers that they’re approaching a school crosswalk would help, noting that some other small communities, such as Paisley, have already done so.

“Every crossing has its own problem. Mine is speed.”

New Hamburg’s Joan Grosso and Lindner sometimes swap shifts. Grosso has been a crossing guard since 2015, and for her, one of the main issues is the newly-installed traffic light on the Peel Street crosswalk where she works most of the time.

Grosso thinks that drivers at the “Stop” sign on Seyler Street who are turning left on to Peel can’t easily see if the light is red.

“This morning, I had two different people stop on the crosswalk, because they come, and all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to stop,’” she said. “I guess it’s a learning curve.”

It’s a lesson that can come with heavy consequences for uneducated drivers. According to the MTO, “Failing to yield at pedestrian crosswalks, school crossings, and crossovers” can lead to a $1,000 fine and four demerit points. Running a red light can result in the same fine, but with three demerit points. Fines are doubled in Community Safety Zones, such as near schools and public areas.

Marnie Usher has worked as the guard at the crosswalk outside New Dundee Public School since 2013. She had been a stay-at-home mom for 11 years when she applied for the job on the Township’s website.

“It was a great fit as I had young kids still,” she said. “The thought of making sure kids get to school safely was another reason it interested me.”

Usher said she regularly sees plenty of dangerous activity while she’s on duty, from speeding cars, transport trucks, dump trucks, and distracted drivers.

“The amount of people on their phones is disgusting,” she said.

She noted that Wilmot’s Ward 2 councillor Angie Hallman and local residents have delegated at Regional council on numerous road traffic issues in New Dundee.

“We’re to have photo radar installed at some point. They’ve tried to reroute the trucks and talk to certain truck companies in the area, which has helped a little,” said Usher.

She added, “I would like to see more signs showing it’s a school zone and lower the speed from 50 to 40, and possibly speed bumps.”

Mike Jones, Traffic Engineering Supervisor for the Region of Waterloo, said that one of the ways the Region is trying to slow down traffic is “reconstructing roadways with reduced widths.”

He added that the Region convinced the province to enact new regulations supporting Automated Speed Enforcement in school zones. 

“This effort will go a long way to reduce motorist speeds in school zones and will enhance safety for children walking to and from school, as well as the crossing guards who assist these children,” said Jones.

“Regional staff also collaborate with Waterloo Regional Police Services staff to identify areas that require additional enforcement,” he added.

New Hamburg’s Grosso has seen the effect that a police presence can have.

Laughing, she said, “We’ve had a police officer come out and stand there, and boy, people behaved themselves.”