"Don't speed in and around school zones in Thomson or you could get a speeding ticket," Thomson Chief of Police John Hathaway said Monday, which marked the return of thousands of students back to schools in McDuffie County. "We don't want to see anyone getting hurt. That's the real reason we're enforcing the speed limits in a more strict way."
Thomson City Administrator Don Powers recently brought the safety matter to the attention of the police chief.
"Don just said he'd like to see us make it as safe as possible for kids walking and for the school buses around the schools in the city," Chief Hathaway said.
Immediately, a plan was put into action - one that started three weeks before schools ever opened.
"We started patrolling around different schools with a concentration on speeding motorists," Chief Hathaway said. "I know I verbally issued warnings to a lot of motorists and issued citations to several others for speeding. Several of my officers have done the same thing."
In one case, the police chief said he clocked a motorist on radar doing 60 mph in a 35 mph school speed zone. He made a traffic stop and the motorist was cited for speeding. He faces a fine of $290 in city traffic court.
The minimum fine for speeding inside a school zone is $38.
"We're taking this matter very seriously in Thomson and I strongly suggest that the motoring public take driving in school zones very seriously, too," Chief Hathaway said.
The police chief described the traffic around schools in the city limits on Monday as "just awful," especially at Thomson High School.
"The parking lot was full of cars and trucks and no where to put the rest of them that were trying to find a place," Chief Hathaway said.
A meeting is expected to take place soon between police, city and school officials to discuss solutions to the traffic congestion at the high school.
"I've already got a few suggestions that I'll be discussing with everybody that I've thought about at that meeting," Chief Hathaway said. "Something for sure has got to be done."
One of the ways of easing traffic congestion at THS, he believes, is for parents who drive their children to school to leave their homes a little earlier and arrive at the school about 10 to 15 minutes earlier.
"Right now, we've got people bringing kids to the school at basically the same time," Chief Hathaway said. "That's really what's causing all the backup of traffic."
As far as the other schools go, the police chief believes that the traffic flow will begin to smooth out next week.
"It's normally pretty bad the first week of school, but then it tapers off and is easier to manage," Chief Hathaway said. "That's what we've seen in the past."