Thousands of drivers and pedestrians will return to their early morning and afternoon commutes when local schools reopen Thursday.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the Santa Monica Police Department are asking commuters to be patient with other drivers as they navigate back-to-school traffic and keep a sharp eye out for children walking to and from school. All 16 public schools in Santa Monica and Malibu will begin the 2019-2020 school year Thursday morning.

“We urge residents and visitors to Santa Monica and Malibu to always drive carefully throughout the year,” said SMMUSD spokesperson Gail Pinsker. “With the start of school on Thursday, please take additional care as many of our students walk and ride bikes to school. Please stay off your devices and watch for school zones to ensure the safety of families and neighbors at all times.”

The Santa Monica Police Department is also asking parents to leave for school earlier than usual during the last weeks of August so they don’t have to rush as they figure out new traffic conditions.

“I can’t stress this enough — give yourself extra time and be patient with other drivers,” said Sgt. Bobby Villegas. “If you’re new to the school, drive or walk around the neighborhood in off-peak hours to get to know the area and orient yourself.”

The department will deploy more officers to enforce traffic rules during the first few weeks of school, Villegas added. Officers will be on the lookout for drivers double parking, blocking driveways or driving while looking at their phones.

“Double parking creates congestion, and dangerous conditions for children who have to get out of a double-parked car and walk in the middle of the street,” he said. “Give yourself enough time in the morning so you don’t have to double park when you drop off your kids.”

Villegas said distracted driving is always a potentially fatal concern, but even more so in areas like schools with heavy pedestrian traffic.

“That’s especially true when children are involved because they’re shorter and can’t be seen from a car if the driver is on their phone,” he said. “We ask everyone to put their phones down and pay attention to the road so everyone can have a good start of the year.”

Students should also be aware that they are required to wear a helmet while riding a bike, scooter or skateboard if they are under 18 and must have at least a learners permit to operate a scooter.

“Make sure to talk to your kids if they use other modes of transport to get to school and remind them to obey all the rules of the road,” Villegas said.

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