It started out as your typical everyday, average afternoon shift at my crosswalk on Highway 93 in Hillsdale. Put on my high visibility safety gear. Walk up to the highway and grab the stop sign at the firehall. Then set up orange pylons as a way to try and calm speeding drivers. I try to get this done in plenty of time so I can get myself mentally prepared for when the children cross. Once the two school buses depart the school, the walkers who live across the highway are on their way up to the crosswalk.
A few of the older children are incredibly quick. It seems like in no time they are up at the highway and are the first to cross. Then the larger groups arrive, nearly always with young children. I keep an eye on the little ones very closely to make sure they don’t absent mindedly dart onto the busy highway. One of the regular tractor trailers drivers that travel through each day was approaching. Fully loaded with gravel on its five axle trailer. These rigs carry massive weights. So I waited until it passed before I pushed the signalized crossing button.
There was a line up of cars approaching from the south and several cars approaching from the north. They were followed by another tractor trailer way back on the outskirts of the village. We were good to go. When I pushed the signalized crosswalk button, one driver coming from the south went through the remaining green and the next driver stopped his car when the yellow appeared. Coming in from the north, two drivers went through on the remaining part of the green, one went through the yellow, and one driver floored his pickup running the light as it turned red. With the light red and cars stopped from the south, I blew my whistle and went to the centre of the highway. The tractor trailer from the north was moving closer but still a long way off. I figured the driver had plenty of time to stop, so I blew my 2nd whistle for the kids to cross. With the crowd of walkers spread out across the highway I was watching that tractor trailer closely and realized with horror that the speeding trailer trailer driver was not slowing one bit for this red light. He was continuing to approach this red light while barreling ahead at full speed. The driver was either zoned out or driving distracted. It would be impossible to clear the big group of children spread out over the highway off the highway. So I instinctively raced out between the kids and the driver while wildly waving my stop sign to get the drivers attention. It was a bold, desperation move. But it was the only thing I could do. After the normal reaction time (the time it takes to mentally process and then respond by moving your foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal) the driver slammed hard on the brakes. With the antilock braking system, fortunately the big rig didn’t skid. It slowed to a controlled stop right on the line where the sign with an arrow that says “Stop Here On Red Signal”. Which was set back 50 feet from the centre of the crosswalk where the group was crossing.
Because the driver did stop where it was supposed to have, technically this wouldn’t even be classified as a near miss to report. Though the 2 or 3 parents in that large group were extremely well aware of what just took place. The acrid smell in the air from overheated brakes was telltale in itself. But I don’t think most kids comprehended at all of what almost took place. For which I am grateful. But I know if I had failed in getting that driver of the tractor trailer’s attention by one mere second, not only would there be a near miss, it could have been much more serious. So much so, that when I went to bed that night, my heart was still wildly racing. It kept me wide awake a good part of the night. Because I deeply knew what a difference of delaying one second would have made. It was the difference between life and death. A cheat sheet on time, speed, distance calculations I refer to mentions that a typical vehicle travelling at 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers an hour) will travel a distance of 51 feet in one second.
Ontario Provincial Highway 93 is the main business highway from the south to the Midland/Penetanguishene area. It really sucks having a main highway go right through the middle of an otherwise very quiet village. There are a huge number of multi axle tractor trailers and and LCV’s (long combination vehicles) travelling through Hillsdale everyday carrying all types of loads. I spent 10 years of my working life working in a heavy truck axle plant. Welding brackets. Installing cams, brakes, slack adjusters, anti-lock brake sensors and spring brakes. Pressing in seals and bearings. Torqueing hub and drum. I became very knowledgeable of the load weights for these axles that provide the foundation for the tractor trailers that daily haul goods on our highways. Plus the twenty two years before that I drove heavy truck (up to 80,000 pounds GVW) while working in the water well drilling industry. An unofficial guide (much easier to read than the government version) for weight allowances on Ontario roads is called “Guide to Vehicle Weights and Dimension Limits in Ontario“. It is 229 pages long. There are a lot of variables involved to do with specific manufacturers vehicle configuration, tractor towing capacity, total truck length, axle spacing and the number of axles under a trailer that determine a tractor trailer Gross Vehicle Weight. With enough trailer axle capacity and tractor towing capacity, the maximum weight allowed Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) on our Ontario Provincial highways for repeat trips is 63,500 kilograms (139,993 pounds). There are many heavy hauler tractor trailers going through my crosswalk area each day that would qualify to haul that maximum weight allowance of 63,500 kilograms. To make it the most cost efficient for the trucking companies, the companies often try to come close to carrying the maximum allowable GVW on their respective trucks. Weights do go over the 63,500 kilograms. Enhanced annual multi-trip permits can be obtained for King’s Ontario Provincial highways for up to 78,000 kilograms (172,000 pounds). Overweight permits go up to 120,000 kilograms (264,000 pounds) for specified single trips, with fees paid for the number of kilometers driven on Ontario Provincial highways for each trip. Carrier companies need to show documentation that their vehicle is capable of hauling the specific weight on the required permit. Several times a year these types of loads travel through my crosswalk area. These massive loads sometimes are accompanied with escort vehicles with flashing lights. Other times the lights, signs and flags are on the trucks themselves. The heaviest load permits for Ontario Provincial highways are called Superload Permits which exceed 120,000 kilograms. For a Superload permit to be issued, carrier load documentation will be subject to a thorough review by the ministry’s Weight and Load Engineer. Carriers will also need to submit an evaluation by a qualified engineer to evaluate the bridges on their route for Ministry of Transportation approval.
The tractor trailer illustration shared earlier (which happened this past January) was by no means an isolated incident. I am certainly grateful that episodes like that don’t happen every day. There are however some big rig drivers each week whose speed and aggression scare the dickens out of me. The difference is there just doesn’t happen to be kids crossing at that very second. However, these are a small percentage of the vast number of big trucks that travel through Hillsdale each day. The big truck drivers who frighten me are driving rigs I usually do not recognize. The majority of tractor trailer drivers are alert, attentive and very aware of their surroundings. There is an enormous amount at stake for them if they crash. The regular big rig drivers that travel through Hillsdale each day always keep watch for me. Many of these regular big truck drivers will go the speed limit, calming the traffic. And as a result helping me out. These drivers will often give me a friendly wave as they pass through. Most of the time the inattentive drivers I encounter involve cars, pickups and SUV”s instead of a tractor trailer. Drivers simply are not paying attention. And I’m out there scrambling to get their attention. It is an extremely dangerous job, but I sure feel so appreciated by the children, the parents, the school and the community of Hillsdale. A couple of weeks ago I was walking home from my morning crosswalk. The kindergarten class was outside greeting me with this big beautiful poster that read, “Thumb Buddy Loves You. And It’s Us”. The precious children had all put their thumbprints on the poster. It brought me so much joy I posted it on Twitter. The post received a lot of activity in likes, comments and shares. So much so, that I got a call from a kind lady named Alexis, a communication officer with the Simcoe County District School Board. She was wanting to know if I was willing to have a videographer come out and shoot a video with me and the poster for Crossing Guard Appreciation Day. Here is the finished video from the Simcoe County School Board posted on Facebook.
I never knew Crossing Guard Appreciation Day even existed until last year. I was walking up to the highway for my afternoon crosswalk duties a year ago. The children were outside the school to present beautiful banners and incredible individual artwork to present to me on Crossing Guard Appreciation Day. I cherish that artwork to this day. But everyday at the crosswalk I really do feel appreciated. My Life as a Crossing Guard has so much purpose. I love seeing all the children’s smiles and cheery faces. And they always are so eager to say thank you to me each day. They bring me so much joy.
With this current Climate Emergency wrecking havoc on our planet, having car free active transportation is becoming more and more critical. Hillsdale Elementary School has an amazing environmental program. In the last 12 years with the Ecoschool Program they’ve won gold 9 times and platinum twice (which was the most recent). One year all schools received “certified” due to contract negotiations. Active transportation such as walking and biking to school is one of forty three actions in the Ecoschool Program. It is my role as School Crossing Guard to get them across busy Highway 93 safely. I take this role very seriously.
My two major concerns with Provincial Highway 93 travelling right through the middle of Hillsdale has always been speeding drivers and distracted drivers. I previously wrote in detail about distracted drivers in this article My Life as a School Crossing Guard. At a special council meeting held November 27, 2019 a new signalized light system was approved (interesting council meeting dialogue about these lights to watch. It starts at 26 seconds). The lights were installed in 2021 and activated on December 9th of that year. They have me helped considerably, making me feel a bit less vulnerable as I try to get to the centre of the highway to cross the children. But the speeding and distracted driving are still major concerns.
There is an Ontario Provincial Police officer who comes by one morning a month for 45 minutes. Which I am extremely grateful for. He will apologize profusely that he comes by so little. He covers a vast territory, plus works shifts. With his radar gun, the officer won’t bother with drivers speeding 60-65kph in a 50kph zone. Because within a couple of minutes he will have someone speeding in the 70 or 80 kilometer per hour range pulled over. The higher the speed the steeper the fine. Eight to ten minutes in his cruiser doing a license check and issuing the ticket and back out. Within 2 minutes he will have another driver speeding in the 70 or 80 kilometer per hour range. By the time I finish my morning crosswalk the policeman would have ticketed 4 or 5 drivers and issued around $1,500 worth of fines. The last time the officer was out he nabbed a large four door heavy duty pickup going 90kph. The driver was cooperative, so the ticket was dropped to 89kph so the driver would avoid the stunt driving charge which includes having his truck impounded for 2 weeks. Speed is a deep concern. Speed kills. It is not every driver, but everyday there are scores of drivers travelling way above the speed limit. As long as they get away with it, they will continue to speed. If a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle travelling at 20mph, there is a 90% chance of survival. If hit at 40mph (64kph), a pedestrian has a 10% chance of survival. A June 2021 article from World Health Organization mentions “The death risk for pedestrians hit by car fronts rises rapidly (4.5 times from 50 km/h to 65 km/h)”.
Another interesting observance with this same infographic above is that the faster a driver is travelling, the less likely they will yield. When drivers are speeding too fast, instead of slowing to stop when the light turns yellow at the crosswalk, they will blow through the beginning of the red light. This does happen regularly. This is putting the lives of precious, vulnerable children at risk just to save a few seconds. Which is very selfish. From an article I wrote called World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims there are 1.3 million humans dying each year from car drivers. One every 24 seconds. Half of these deaths comprise of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
I’ve worked a few dangerous jobs in my lifetime. But interesting enough, my crossing guard position is the only position I’ve held where I will pray daily to keep everyone safe. And then a prayer of thanks at the end of the day for answered prayer. Because anything can happen out there. Every hour there are between 600 and 1,000 drivers behind a vehicle that travel through my crosswalk area. Each driver in that vehicle has the potential to become lethal.
A random incident really gave me the chills in the early part of winter when I arrived for my morning crosswalk duty. Sometime in the previous few hours a driver had crossed the highway, jumped the curb (ripping open the oil pan in the process), veered across the intersection, onto the very sidewalk where the children wait to be be crossed and then back onto the highway. All the while with motor oil pouring out. I dread the thought of this happening during crosswalk time. If it did, I would do everything possible to protect the lives of those children. I love them and care for them that much.
Everyday we are all given a sum of 86,400 seconds. One second may not seem like a lot. But when it is involves driving a vehicle, it really is. That one second could be the difference of life and death for a vulnerable child. Is it too much to ask for our children to walk or ride their bike to school safely? Had I delayed one second before racing out to frantically get the distracted big rig driver’s attention, there would have been a major tragedy. Whether it is distracted driving, speeding or running red lights, all it takes is one second to destroy a life. Tom Flood is a gentleman I follow on Twitter. He advocates for safe active transportation (particularly for children) and has a quote which resonates with me and reads as follows, “We tell children to be safe so adult drivers can be dangerous”. Please remember that driving is a privilege and not an entitlement. Please drive in a way that ensure our most vulnerable lives are not at stake as they travel to and from school. Thank you so much to Hillsdale Elementary School and the community of Hillsdale for all the love and appreciation you shower upon me. Thank you for for the support from our Springwater Township mayor, Don Allen. It means the world to me. It is an honour to be your school crossing guard. And to all crossing guards out there. I know what you are up against. I appreciate you. You can’t put a price on a child’s life. So Thank You for all you do each and every day. Happy Crossing Guard Appreciation Day!