SAVOY — When Rose Hudson is working as a crossing guard for Champaign schools, she sees firsthand the dangers of drivers who aren't paying attention in school zones.
They may be speeding, or on their cellphones, or totally ignorant of the fact that they're in a school zone.
She has advice for drivers, just in time for the beginning of the school year.
"Know when you're entering school zones, even if you're in your own neighborhood," Hudson said. "Keep an eye on (the school zone and kids inside). Don't be talking on the phone, don't be texting or whatever else you happen to be doing. Pay attention to your driving because things do happen, and you need to be ready to react."
Hudson, who's a child safety advocate and one of the founders of the Champaign-Urbana Safe Routes to School Project, works as a crossing guard and will be helping students at the new Carrie Busey Elementary in Savoy today and this school year.
She asks drivers to pretend it's their own kids making their way through a crosswalk on their way to or from school. Many don't do that, though.
"It is just really scary. In more than few instances, drivers just really (didn't) want to stop," Hudson said. "Obviously, my job is to protect those kids."
But that can be hard when she's in the middle of the street, with just a paddle to remind motorists to stop. A newer Illinois law requires drivers to stop, not yield, for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
Hudson said she's had to yell at drivers to get off their cellphones and pay attention.
"Crossing guards yell at motorists all the time," Hudson said. "Some of the drivers are just absolutely clueless."
School zones may be especially hairy this year at schools like the new Carrie Busey, and Champaign's Westview on Kirby, which is located in the old Carrie Busey building for the year.
"It's a whole new group of parents and kids who have a new traffic situation to look for," Hudson said. "Everybody's got to get used to a whole new routine. It will add to a little craziness around some of these schools."
She said a new traffic plan is being implemented at Westview on Kirby, which should help, but drivers should still be cautious while driving near the school.
"It really does come down to ... pay close attention to what's going around you," Hudson said. "Obey all the laws; watch out for crossing guards and students. Just stop, and make sure they can get across there safely."
And even after you stop, don't creep up and crowd the crosswalk, Hudson said.
"Think if that was your child in the crosswalk," Hudson said, and drive accordingly.
She said sometimes when she yells at motorists for things like using their cellphones in school zones, they look at her like they had no idea about the law.
"How do you not know you're in a school zone?" Hudson said. "To me, that's not a valid excuse. ... If you're behind the wheel, you take the responsibility that goes with (it). That responsibility is knowing what else is going on around you."
Here are more tips, from the Champaign Police Department, on school-zone safety:
— Slow down in marked school zones between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on school days when students are attending.
The speed limit in school zones is 20 miles per hour, and you must yield to anyone, regardless of age, in a crosswalk.
A school-zone speeding ticket may result in a $150 fine and a mandatory court appearance.
— Pay attention: "Any person that causes bodily or great bodily harm to a child or a school crossing guard in a school crossing zone is subject to facing imprisonment and fines of up to $25,000," according to a release from the police department.
— Stop while students get on and off school buses. Yellow flashing lights will indicate a school bus is getting ready to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop arm tells you the bus is stopped and kids are getting off or on. You must stop and wait until the red light stops flashing and the folding arm withdraws before you can continue.
— Stop at crosswalks. Crossing guards are there to guide students, not drivers.
"It is a driver's responsibility to stop to allow pedestrians to cross in a crosswalk," said the Champaign police news release. "Please stop well before the crosswalk and stay stopped until the crosswalk is no longer occupied, not just until your lane is clear. You may not turn left or right through an occupied crosswalk."
— It's against the law to use your cellphone in school or work zones.
— It's against the law to read or send a text message while you're driving.