A tragedy was waiting to happen

Tragic loss ... Kevin Quintal.
Tragic loss ... Kevin Quintal. Photo: Supplied

The online feed stopped me in my tracks. ''Boy, 5, killed while crossing road on way to kindergarten.'' Kevin Quintal had been so excited to get to his school gates with Christmas approaching that he had written a card to every student in his kindy class. Chills swept my arm. That morning I had done the exact same thing with my own kindy-aged daughter.

Kevin was hit on Vivienne Street, just 300 metres from the gates to Kingsgrove Public in south-west Sydney, the report said. His godfather managed to speak amid his grief: ''He was so excited to get there. He just loved school. He was the top of the class.''

Kevin was to have received an award at school that day. His mum, Marilyn, and dad, Victor, should have been taking photos of his award at assembly. Instead they were saying goodbyes in a hospital.

Another family was destroyed that day - the devastated mother driving the car in the fatal crash was not speeding but simply did not see Kevin as she turned the corner. She had her own two children strapped in the back.

The unimaginable tragedy must have hit home for every parent in this state and not just because of the devastating, unthinkable horror that had unfolded. But because any parent who navigates the war zone that is school pick-up times knows this tragedy was completely imaginable.

Most parents who navigate the tricky school zones that operate from 8am to 9.30am and 2.30pm to 4pm every day will tell you their daily trips are disasters-in-waiting.

From the start it is a pressure-cooker situation: the stress of getting to the school gate on time in the morning or afternoon - especially if you are working - is stressful enough. Complicate that with school backpacks, projects, swimming bags, library bags, spare sport shoes, goggles, school notes, gelato day money and any number of other details that go into organising a school day. And then multiply it if you have more than one child, or siblings in prams or capsules along for the ride. It's already hard enough.

Then, unless you find that one elusive parking spot, there is the additional pressure of following the rules set for the drop-off zone by money-hungry councils. These lead to people putting themselves in dangerous predicaments to avoid fines and demerit points.

The No Stopping zone at my school means you can stop for only one minute in the car line and in that time, for me, that means getting three kids aged between six and eight into the car, buckled up by themselves. (You cannot leave the vehicle - so managing this for kindy kids in a booster is a challenge in itself.) If I don't comply, I will get fined $298 and lose two demerit points. You will also cop the same fine if you double-park, which leads to cars going around and around in a bid to obey traffic laws, creating more unnecessary and dangerous traffic.


Our school has had many meetings and notes about the process for the school line. An amazing squad of volunteer parents staff the drop-off zone to comply with residents' desires and keep safety paramount. But there is little doubt the stress of obeying the rules frazzles the drivers and children to the point it has become dangerous.

Police often sit across the road or in side streets, waiting to catch someone, and council rangers roam, often waiting to pounce on frantic mothers. I have never once seen any of these police officers or council rangers offer assistance or help to calm the situation down. Their mere presence often induces panic.

I'm told this is a reaction to residential complaints. Residents in the area do have the right to complain (though it does make me wonder why they bought homes next to a school if they can't handle the population it brings daily). But is the solution really to crack down on parents just trying to safely get their kids to and from school?

''The council is responding to residents' complaints and they have to do something,'' says one teacher familiar with the horrors of car lines.

''Parents are supposed to not stop and keep going around the block - which sounds OK in theory, but in practice it is very different.''

Yes. Basically, it doesn't work. And that's when tragedies occur.

''Most parents are trying to do their best, but in their haste to comply with the law and not get booked and lose points off their licence, it becomes a highly stressful scenario. Parents and teachers are in constant discussion about this.''

And with work pressures and society in general demanding more from families than ever, there is little chance of things slowing down. ''It only takes one parent to lose concentration for one second and take their foot off the brake for something to happen,'' says one mum in my playground pool. ''The residents should stop whingeing and get over it - it only takes 15 minutes, twice a day.''

The streets around Kingsgrove Public School will undergo a safety review following Kevin's accident. A Roads and Maritime Services spokesman confirmed it would work with local council to review road safety around the school.

How about we work towards a sensible solution that puts kids' safety as the top priority? Revenue raising and the rest shouldn't interfere.