FENLAND: Tom joins in a school crossing patrol shift, as chiefs hope to prove our diarist wrong

WHEN school crossing chiefs found our diarist s comments about patrols derogatory, they promised to show us the other side of the coin. So, in their attempts to prove Samuel Brakespeare wrong, TOM JACKSON joined council officers on a patrol outside two

WHEN school crossing chiefs found our diarist's comments about patrols derogatory, they promised to show us the other side of the coin.

So, in their attempts to prove Samuel Brakespeare wrong, TOM JACKSON joined council officers on a patrol outside two schools in March to learn more about the role - and the dangers that come with it.

COLUMIST Samuel Brakespeare caused outrage when he announced that he was surprised that only 81 drivers flouted school crossing patrols in Cambridgeshire last year.

He also provoked further anger when he said he was annoyed with patrol officers because he claimed they waited until the last minute to jump out in front of a car.

However, they were two opinions which were quickly dismissed by council chiefs at Shire Hall in Cambridge.

Andy Swallowe, Cambridgeshire County Council's school crossing patrol service manager, said: "Both myself and some of my patrols found the article quite derogatory.

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"It only reflected one opinion and therefore gave an unbalanced view of drive-through incidents."

To find out what it's really like to be a school crossing patrol officer, I was invited to join a patrol last Thursday morning outside Maple Grove Infants and Westwood Junior Schools, in March.

I was given a quick introduction from Mr Swallowe - but, most importantly, he showed me markers more than 50 metres away which are used as a guide as to when to step into the road.

Mr Swallowe said: "Approaching cars should be no closer than these markers. It gives plenty of time for drivers to see you."

I also watched how regular school crossing patrol officer Helen Moore puts the markers into practice, before I had a try myself.

I only completed a few 'crossings', but I soon learned it was not a job to take lightly.

Youngsters and parents crossed in their droves, while cars queued on both sides of the road waiting for the all-clear. There were also cyclists to watch out for - and one even ignored the patrol altogether.

What surprised me the most was that some drivers even stopped so I could enter the road. It seemed a far cry from the fact that drivers ignore patrols.

Mr Swallowe said: "It is not the most complex job in the world, but you have to really concentrate because so many things go on around you - vehicles approaching from different directions, traffic congestion, inconsiderate parking by parents and children approaching the patrol site from all directions."

Mrs Moore said she loves every second of the job, which she started eight years ago, but has experienced the risks of school crossing patrols in that time.

She said: "Cyclists seem to be a law unto themselves a lot of the time, but I have had two or three occasions where cars have ignored me.

"Last year I actually had to grab a three-year-old girl to pull her away from a car which ignored the crossing.

"It sounds ridiculous but drivers never pay enough attention. They are so focused on getting to a certain place that they sometimes do not see things in front of them."

From what I saw - and experienced - Brakespeare's claim that crossing patrols jump out at the last minute is wrong. Drivers are given plenty of time to slow down and even stop.

I also think that cyclists are a greater risk to crossing patrols than drivers, so I'm more surprised the number is so high.

There was no beeping of horns in disgust, or creeping by cars at the front of queues like I expected. Drivers were more than courteous and waited patiently while pupils crossed the road to get to their school.

The county council launches its 'Stop Means Stop' campaign next month to target those drivers who ignore crossings.

Car stickers and leaflets will be distributed to reception children in the county's schools, and posters will hung up in libraries.

Mr Swallowe said: "The aim of the campaign is to remind drivers it is the law to stop for school crossing patrols.

"Failure to do so can incur three points on your licence and a fine of up to £1,000. All reported drive-through incidents are passed to the Police for action."

• OFFICERS from the Safer Routes to School project are working with Maple Grove and Westwood Schools to look at ways of improving pedestrian safety and road congestion, and cracking down on speeding, along Maple Grove.

The county-wide project aims to encourage parents and pupils to walk and cycle to school, rather than travelling by car.