OPINION: Crossing guard blows whistle on bad drivers

George Mathewson

While driving to the office one day last week I was stopped for a red light at Murphy and London roads, waiting for the traffic signal to change.

First one car, then a second, and then a third vehicle ran the yellow, hell-bent on going somewhere.

The last driver couldn’t clear the intersection until long after the light had turned.

When it comes to obeying traffic signals in Sarnia, it seems, yellow is the new green.

And this wasn’t an isolated incident of boorish driving. All across this city it’s easy to see double-wide corner turns, selfish parking jobs and unsignalled lane changes – often in a single commute.

I don’t want to blow this out of proportion. With just 3.4 collisions per 100 hundred cars, Sarnia is among the safest cities for driving in Canada, according to insurance industry stats.

But there has been an observable decline in driver courtesy, which some say is a reckless and even dangerous trend.

Theresa Chalmers-Cowley is a Sarnia woman who recently left her job as a crossing guard with Commissionaires Great Lakes. By resigning, she said, she is finally free to speak her mind.

“Drivers in this city are not paying attention. They’re so focused on themselves and where they gotta go that they’re getting behind the wheel and not showing responsibility,” she said.

“Drivers need to pay attention and follow the rules, and I don’t want to wait until another child dies.”

On Jan. 7, 2013, a 10-year-old Cathcart Boulevard School student named Jillian Keck was stuck while crossing the intersection of Cathcart and Murphy Road.

An 80-year-old driver has been charged with dangerous driving causing death, and the girl’s family has filed a civil suit against the driver, the City of Sarnia, the crossing guard at the scene and Commissionaires.

Chalmers-Cowley described two serious near misses she had last fall while helping school children cross Murphy Road near Bradford Drive.

It’s a crossing guard’s job to step out and halt traffic on a busy road equipped only with a sign, bright clothing and a traffic cone.

Given such vulnerability, all vehicles are required by law to come to a full, complete stop. Yet some keep on rolling or pull right up to the crosswalk line, she said.

The final straw came when she and her charges were nearly struck on a slippery Murphy Road. As she hustled the children back to the curb the oncoming car slid into a sign, she said.

Chalmers-Cowley sought treatment for anxiety and quit her job shortly before Christmas.

“I just want people to know the law,” she said. “People are not coming to a full stop. They don’t want to wait and their focus is on getting where they want to go, no matter what the consequences.”