A couple of weeks ago, a crossing guard stepped onto Conant Avenue to stop traffic in front of Chrysler Elementary School in Modesto.
The guard was wearing a bright vest and carried a stop sign. A group of children began to cross the street.
But one driver ignored the guard and drove past.
At that moment, a 10-year-old boy came bounding past the guard and ran right into the driver-side door of the Chevy Tahoe SUV.
"He suffered minor scrapes and will make a full recovery," police Sgt. Brian Findlen said. "But it could have been tragic."
That incident is under investigation. But traffic problems and bad driver habits are certainly not unique to Chrysler School, just as inconsiderate and dangerous drivers aren't limited to any one specific area of the city.
Each morning and afternoon, school bus drivers and crossing guards in Modesto end their shifts thankful when the children they are entrusted to protect make it to school and back home again, safe and sound.
They routinely see:
Motorists who ignore the flashing red lights and stop sign on the buses, passing them with zero regard for anything but their own self-importance.
Often, longtime Modesto City Schools bus driver Tammy Markley said, they are talking on hand-held cell phones when they blow past the stopped buses. She said an average of two drivers each morning will pass her stopped bus, and often several will do so on her afternoon route.
Although the majority of drivers abide by the laws, others simply can't wait, said John Estacio, a veteran bus maintenance worker and backup driver.
"They go around the cars that are stopped," he said.
And when bus drivers get out to escort children across the street, as they are required by law to do for eighth-graders and younger children, they, too, are at risk.
"They practically run you over," said Paulette Miller, who is No. 1 on Modesto City Schools' seniority list among bus drivers; she has 24 years' service.
Drivers who ignore the posted 25 mph signs in school zones
Parents who enter and exit bus loading zones in the wrong direction to drop off their children. I watched one parent who, Monday morning, resisted the temptation to turn illegally into Mary Lou Dietrich School's loading zone — only because she noticed Modesto police officer Rodney Garcia sitting behind Markley on bus number 76.
Parents who drive their children to school and park in the red zones, which are there to give buses room to negotiate turns in and out of the bus loading zones.
At Chrysler School, parent volunteers stretch a chain to keep cars from entering the bus loading zone. One motorist, though, drove right through the chain, Markley said. "It whipped against (the volunteer's) leg," she said.
Parents who hurry their children across the streets, weaving in and out of traffic, refusing to use the crosswalks.
Monday morning, Modesto motorcycle officers monitored some of the routes where offenses routinely occur. Findlen cited one driver for failing to stop in front of Chrysler School. The offender, as it turned out, also was unlicensed. Findlen ordered the car towed.
Otherwise, motorists stopped for the buses when the red lights flashed and the sign came out, possibly because they noticed a half-dozen or so motorcycle officers in the vicinity.
"We did expect several violations," Findlen said. "It was a bit refreshing that nobody violated today. But we know it happens."
More so in the afternoons, when the buses bring children home, Markley said. In the mornings, the students already have crossed streets, if necessary, to reach their bus stops. In the afternoon, though, bus drivers need to make sure the children cross safely, and that is when driver violations occur most frequently.
Officers cited seven drivers for various school zone violations Monday, including one unlicensed driver who failed to stop for the crossing guard, Findlen said. Another was for failing to stop for a bus; officers have written 11 such citations in the past six months, he said.
A first bus violation ticket can cost $150 to $250, and the second costs $500 to $1,000. Three or more violations within three years earns a suspended license for a year.
It's pretty simple, these bus drivers said: Slow down and obey the laws around schools and buses. Student safety is more important than a motorist's ego.
"People are so impatient," veteran bus driver Janet Garvin said. "If their child was there, I bet they would have a different attitude. They don't take into consideration what a precious cargo we're carrying."
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.