By NEIL ZAWICKI
Milton Police Sgt. Paul Locke grilled hamburgers and hotdogs on the front lawn at Minor Funeral Home Monday. He served a little more than 100 people while kids had fun with balloon animals and learned about bus safety.
The event, a partnership with the Chittenden County Safe Highway Accident Reduction Program, or SHARP, was the first of its kind, meant to remind drivers that each new school year puts buses on the road, adding a requirement to stop when they disperse kids coming to and from school and school events.
“We deal with at least one or two passing a school bus violations once a week,” said Locke.
The cookout also brought awareness to the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over enforcement period, which runs from Aug. 16 through Labor Day. It was Chittenden Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Allen Fortin’s idea to combine the two campaigns, but the cookout was Locke’s suggestion.
“I came up with the idea, but he ran with it,” said Fortin. He added that holding the event at the funeral home adds an irony to the message, enhancing the reality that safe driving is a matter of life or death.
“You can’t put a price on life,” said Fortin.
Fortin said the goal is enforcement, but that events like the cookout are about prevention.
“If we can remind drivers ahead of time, then we won’t have to enforce,” he said.
Fortin said the campaign works as a back-to-school message because Labor Day, which sees a spike in bad driving, also signifies the beginning of the school year. To that end, he wants to emphasize that school bus safety is more than just observing the stop sign.
“If you’re driving behind a bus, allow a greater distance than if you were driving behind a car,” he said. “It will give you more time to stop once the yellow lights start flashing.”
Fortin and Locke say they hope to make the cookout an annual event.
“We hope we can get more agencies involved next time,” said Fortin.