Gridlock Guy: Back-to-school season means hectic morning commute

Do you remember how much you used to dread the first day of school as a kid? No more free days running around the neighborhood with your friends. No more lazy days swimming in the pool, pond, lake or creek. No more staying up late catching fireflies and listening to baseball on the radio. If Christmas was the greatest morning of the year for kids, the first day of school was definitely the worst.

As you march your pouting youngsters out the door this week for the start of the school year, think of me, a 40-year-old pouting just as much as your kids. For kids and traffic reporters, there is no worse day than the first day of school.

Longtime Atlanta commuters know why. The first ring of the school bell signals the beginning of extraordinarily bad traffic for everyone in the metro area. If you just moved to Atlanta in June, you have no clue what you are about to face on the roads.

A few school districts actually started back last week. Monday the school year starts in Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, Henry, Lamar, Paudling and Spalding counties, as well as City of Atlanta and City of Decatur. Tuesday Gwinnett, Haralson, Union, and Chattooga counties join the fray. Coweta and Douglas counties start on Wednesday as do Cartersville and Marietta city schools. Thursday sees Carroll, Clayton, Dawson, Fayette and Forsyth counties return to class along with Buford and Gainesville. Jackson County schools are back in session on Friday.

Next Monday, Aug. 11, is the first day of school in DeKalb County, Fulton County, along with Butts and Pickens counties and Carrollton city schools.

Consider it a death from a thousand paper cuts for yours truly.

So, what does this mean for your commute?

Obviously traffic is going to start getting worse, and it’s going to start getting worse earlier every morning. Plan accordingly. The last two months on the roads have been a breeze compared to what awaits you as the schools get back in session.

A few things to remember as the kids head back:

— Pay extra attention while driving. Keep distractions to a minimum.

— Expect kids at bus stops or kids walking along the road at every turn.

— Pay attention to school buses. We’ve had a reprieve from the yellow traffic cloggers for the summer. They will be back and you need to stop when their flashing lights come on and the stop sign arm is extended.

— Safety first.

One of the most common questions I get asked regarding back-to-school driving is “do I have to stop for a bus on the other side of the street?” The answer is yes, unless there is a raised median (concrete or grass) separating both sides of the road. If there is a raised median, then you don’t have to stop.

More school systems have cameras mounted on buses to catch motorists who don’t stop.

Historically, the real nasty commutes don’t start until after Labor Day. Circle that day on your calendar as the beginning of the end to your commuting sanity.

In the meantime, enjoy the long slow buildup to your trip time every morning.