January 28, 2019
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Crossing guards throughout Rutherford County have seen a wide variety of accidents and close calls in recent years.
The most frequent accident in a school zone is one car rear-ending another. A couple weeks ago, one parent pulled out of Barfield Elementary School without looking and was T-boned by an oncoming car. Another driver grew impatient with the drop-off process, so they drove between two lanes and nearly struck a member of the teaching staff who was helping kids safely exit.
The common denominator is distracted driving because of cell phone usage.
“The biggest thing that we see is they get on their phones and they get distracted,” said Camille Crenshaw, a longtime crossing guard at McFadden School of Excellence, “and then when we try to move the traffic they’re sitting there.”
Hazel Shelton, another crossing guard at McFadden, added, “It’s frustrating because it’s a law.”
The State of Tennessee passed a law making it illegal to use a cell phone while driving through an active school zone. The exception to the law is drivers at least 18 years of age can use a hands-free device.
This law has been in effect since January 1, 2018 — a year ago.
Last year, the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office launched a distracted driving campaign and are once again looking to educate and increase public awareness.
But school resource officers and crossing guards have complained the frequency of drivers on phones has only gone down an estimated 10 percent in the past 13 months.
“It’s always been a big problem,” said Angela Istvanditsch, the school resource officer at Barfield, who also oversees crossing guards countywide, “and it’s still a problem.”
She added, “It’s concerning enough that we’re trying to get the information out there again. (Drivers) know a red light means stop. We have to get it in their mind that when they’re coming into a school zone they know they have to put that cell phone down.”
Sgt. Tim Hayes agreed.
Hayes, the SRO at McFadden, said, “It was a big problem and it was constant — they’re constantly not paying attention to what they’re doing, while they’re driving.”
Istvanditsch estimated 30-40 percent of drivers in school zones are using their cell phone.
She receives complaints from crossing guards on a daily basis. Parents familiar with the law have also called to voice their concerns.
“They could hit someone,” Shelton said.
Asked if she was ever worried that someone could be her, Shelton replied, “Of course.”
She added, “Somebody needs to be out here stopping them.”
Shelton and Crenshaw both point to their ears when they see a driver talking on their cell phone but said it does little good. Crenshaw is known for stepping into a lane of traffic and motioning for drivers to slow down.
Istvanditsch said violators in Tennessee can be ticketed for inattentive, careless or reckless driving. Active school zone means the lights are flashing and crossing guards are present. Violations are considered a class C misdemeanor. The maximum fine is $60 plus court costs.
“Hopefully one day Tennessee will pass a law that you can’t be on your cell phone at all while you’re driving,” Istvanditsch concluded. “If they did, that would be wonderful.”
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT