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Beware: The annual back-to-school traffic nightmare starts next week

Summertime and, save for the cottage congestion and increased construction, the driving was easy. Be warned. This charmed season is coming to an end. Once Labour Day passes we'll be hit by a tsunami of terrible traffic. All those people who spent July and August on holiday are back on the roads and guess what? They are anxious, agitated and in a rush.

It's our annual back-to-school traffic nightmare. Post-Labour Day, school zones become NASCAR rallies and highways are clogged to a standstill. The more we rush, the faster we slow down.

The transition from summer to fall used to mean that children went from running the streets to running to school. Parents are now too frightened to allow kids to walk and so weekday mornings there are a million mean-spirited traffic jams outside elementary schools.

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A study by the Oakland, Calif.-based Safe Routes to School National Partnership found that the percentage of kids walking to school fell from 50 per cent in 1969 to 13 per cent in 2009. It's not entirely the parents' fault. Playgrounds were once supervised for much of the pre-school morning; now, there is usually a 15-minute window for the drop-off.

Irony abounds. Harried mothers and fathers speed through school zones endangering children all because they are too afraid to allow their own children to walk or bike to school. They'd be safer on two legs.

The classroom mindset is visible on the road. No matter how many years since we graduated – when September hits, we all get that nagging feeling that we have homework we forgot to do. There is a sense of urgency in the air and a back-to-school desire for renewal. All the dreams we had in the summer seem possible. We screw our heads on and get down to business.

So each year after Labour Day, the highways and streets are triple-congested with start-of-term mentality motorists. Distracted driving (always a bane) increases as they strive to make the most of their commutes. Look around and you find more drivers with their hands to their ears, or their headsets blazing, as they try to cram in a pre-pre-meeting call before they get to the office.

It's a strange phenomenon because, except for teachers and students, we've all been working throughout the summer. There is no logical difference between going to work on the Tuesday after the August long weekend and driving to work on the Tuesday after Labour Day. You're just going back to work.

There is a simple solution to our post-Labour Day blitz, but, as most simple solutions are, it's almost impossible to apply: Slow down. If we do, we will all move faster.

It's not that you are running out of time, it's that you are wasting it. You waste your time on the road dreading the office and waste your time at the office lamenting the drive home. Instead of speeding past those kids who are actually walking to school – slow down.

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Do it for their sakes and for your own. Take a lesson. Do they look worried? Are they vexed? No, they're experiencing the world around them. That's because they know the lesson you forgot long ago – that we have been given more than enough time – if we know how to use it.

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More

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