Byron Shire Council is investigating allegations of bizarre behaviour and erratic driving by a council parking officer at Byron Public School this week, which an observer told Echonetdaily potentially endangered three children.
Echonetdaily understands concerned parents have contacted council staff and mayor Simon Richardson over the matter, prompting the investigation.
A council spokesperson has admitted that parking officers have been conducting enforcement actions around pick-up time at schools over recent weeks in an effort to step up awareness of the dangers associated with school pick-ups.
But he said that while ‘parking officers have been visiting school zones throughout the shire’ they ‘have not been targeting the Byron Bay school’ in particular.
The spokesperson has denied the claims of one parent that the role of parking officers has been outsourced or that the officers are expected to obtain a ‘quota’ of fines.
One observer, who wished to be identified only as Spike, told Echonetdaily that he was, ‘shocked and horrified by the actions of a solo parking patrol car driver’ at Byron Bay school in Kingsley Street as children were coming out on Tuesday (March 4).
‘I was assisting a friend to pick up her daughter at 3.15 to 3.30pm. The area was busy as usual and there were a lot of children running about and being picked up and being greeted by parents,’ he said.
‘To my surprise at 3.16pm a small parking patrol vehicle arrived at high speed into the car zone,’ he added.
‘The car did a number of manoeuvres and changed direction a few times whilst the driver manipulated a screen and [appeared to be] driving the computer more than attending to driving the vehicle.
Spike queried whether such activity was legal given that using a mobile phone while driving a car is not.
He also alleged that, ‘the council vehicle drove at speed attempting to take photos of as many vehicles as possible darting in and out of the laneways and turning across traffic and making illegal U-turns until it was confronted by a bus pulling out of the bus stop area and only narrowly missed running over three children’.
In response to the allegations, Byron Shire Council’s governance manager Ralph James said an investigation was ‘well advanced’, adding ‘the outcome will be advised as soon as the investigation is completed’.
Mr James said the council was ‘extremely concerned about school traffic safety, however the issue arises, and will continue to work with schools and respond to residents’ concerns’.
Byron Shire Council has been conducting safety signage audits and an education campaign at school zones since the return of school.
Mr James said for the most part this has been welcomed as many people were not aware of the regulations at schools on no stopping and bus zones.
He said that in total, six people were issued warnings at the Byron Bay school on Monday but no fines were issued.
Mr James said since school has commenced this year, only four infringements had been issued at school zones shire wide, two of which were at the Byron Bay school.
‘Nobody likes to get a fine for parking incorrectly or stopping where they shouldn’t. Whilst we appreciate that school zones are busy places at certain times, the no parking in bus zones and no stopping signs still need to be obeyed and are in place for children’s safety,’ he said.
‘The primary role for council in school zones is seen as supporting a safe environment for parents and children rather than fining motorists. While fining motorists who park or drive in a manner which endangers public safety may be necessary this is the primary purpose.
‘The next step in council’s education campaign is to liaise with the schools and reach agreement on a parking plan/traffic management plan and have council staff enforce in accordance with that plan,’ Mr James said.
A council press released issued on February 10 said ‘parents, guardians and people dropping off and picking up children from school are being asked to only stop in designated school pickup areas’.
Byron Shire Council’s senior ranger Gerry Burnage quoted NSW Ambulance Service figures showing that in the first month of Term 1 in 2013, paramedics were called to treat at least 26 children who had been hit by vehicles in the hours before and after school.
‘They said many incidents occurred outside schools, causing injuries ranging from cuts and grazes to fractures and head trauma,’ Mr Burnage said.
‘Put simply, we don’t want these types of accidents occurring at our schools and parking restrictions help reduce accidents.’
He added that Byron and Bangalow public schools were of particular concern ‘due to the schools’ location, roads and the volume of school traffic’.