It's that time of year again. Schools are open, teachers are back to work, kids are everywhere as they trek, bike, drive, and get chauffeured to school. Roads around town are jammed with vehicles and intersections near schools get clogged. That's why we have crossing guards....or is it?
Crossing guards serve a vital role in protecting our children as they leave the house on their walk to school. It seems less and less children are walking these days, opting to ride in a car with a friend to the high school, carpool with neighbors, or be chauffeured back and forth, from door to door, by a parent.
Crossing guards wield a hand held STOP sign that they are authorized to hold up in the air to stop traffic when it is safe to do so when they see a gap in traffic. This allows a crossing guard to safely cross pedestrians at a busy intersection. Intersections like Rahway Ave. & Willow Grove Rd., Grove St. & Rahway Ave., Dudley Ave. & Clark St., Westfield Ave. & Park St. to name just a few.
What that hand held STOP sign DOES NOT authorize a civilian crossing guard to do is to direct or wave motor vehicles thru a state certified STOP sign located on the corners of each of the aforementioned intersections. New Jersey Title 39 Motor vehicle laws govern the laws of the road as does the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.)
Westfield crossing guards have routinely been waving cars through STOP signs to facilitate traffic backed up for blocks, and as a result, accidents do occur. TFoTM has left messages with Westfield Police Department Traffic Safety Officer Lieutenant Jason McErlean seeking an answer to the legal question surrounding Westfield crossing guards illegally directing motor vehicles through STOP signs. In 3 years, Lt. McErlean has not once returned a phone call with an explanation.
In fact, when Mayor Skibitsky was asked about the legality of civilian crossing guards directing motor vehicles to essentially break the law by not coming to a complete stop at a STOP sign and violating the STOP sign statute, he refused to answer. The least he could have done was consulted with his police chief that is seated in the front row at every town council meeting.
So TFoTM asked insurance companies what their ruling would be if a driver proceeded through a STOP sign at the direction of a civilian crossing guard, and an accident occurred. Representatives from State Farm, All-State, and New Jersey Manufacturers all stated that the vehicle at the STOP sign must yield the right of way to the thru street traffic obeying motor vehicle laws.
Westfield has unfortunately experienced some horrific accidents over the years including one at the intersection of Rahway Ave. & Grove St. where a civilian crossing guard, beloved by many, waved children across Rahway Ave. as a motor vehicle was approaching. The civilian crossing guard did not properly stop oncoming traffic before instructing the children to cross Rahway and subsequently, a child was struck by the motor vehicle.
So, before another tragedy occurs, it is time to STOP the long time illegal practice of civilian crossing guards directing traffic thru STOP signs. Westfield Traffic Safety Supervisor Lt. Jason McErlean needs to stop turning a blind eye towards this potentially deadly practice. If Lt. McErlean is instructing his civilian crossing guards, off the record, to facilitate backed-up traffic through STOP sign controlled intersections long after pedestrians have crossed the intersection, he should be relieved of his duties as a Traffic Safety Officer.
If Lt. McErlean is being directed by his police chief David Wayman, the town administrator Jim Gildea, or Mayor Skibitsky to continue this unsafe practice, to satisfy Westfield commuters, parents, and chauffeurs, it's time to blow the stop whistle on it.
Then again, we all know what happens to whistleblowers in the police department.
NOTE: If you are the victim of an accident as a result of the illegal actions of a civilian crossing guard, send your motor vehicle repair bill to The Town of Westfield, 425 E. Broad St., Westfield, N.J., 07090...Attn: Mayor Skibitsky.