On a chilly and overcast Monday morning, a class of Huff Elementary School students clambered onto bicycles, strapped on helmets and peddled their way through an obstacle course simulating the potential hazards they might encounter while riding to school.
"What do we do at a stop sign?" Winona Hubbard, a Safe Moves educator, asks the children, who eagerly await permission to pass the small, red hexagon.
"Stop!" they reply in unison.
"And...?" Hubbard nudges them.
"Look and listen," a few of the children chime in, recalling the rest of the answer."
The "traffic safety rodeo" was put on by an organization called Safe Moves, a nationwide, nonprofit organization dedicated to educating children about traffic safety as well as working to improve traffic safety legislation.
At the Feb. 4 rodeo, the kids wind through a zigzag pathway of sharp turns marked by traffic cones before coming around to another stop sign and a wooden sandwich-board car, complete with a disgruntled-looking man behind the wheel -- a cellphone pinned between his shoulder and ear.
"Here is a car coming out of an alleyway," Hubbard says, picking up the sandwich board vehicle and moving it across the young cyclists' path. "Is he being a good driver?"
"No!" they yell all at once.
"He's on his cell phone," a few children explain.
"Yes," Hubbard responds. "That's called 'distracted driving.'"
She names some other potential behind-the-wheel distractions, like a driver arguing with a passenger, or rummaging around in the car and not looking at the road. Hubbard asks the kids what they ought to do in a situation like this. A few children reply that they ought to stop until they can make eye contact with the driver in question -- the correct answer, again. Then, and only then, should they continue riding, she says.
Safe Moves founder, Pat Hines, started the organization in 1983, after her friend, Sue Latham, was killed while the two were riding their bikes together.
Neither of the two were wearing helmets, Hines recalls, "because I don't like helmets and I had asked her not to wear one either."
Hines blew through a stop sign and Latham followed her. And while Hines made it in time, Latham didn't -- she was struck by a passing car, which never stopped.
At first, Hines focused all her energy on tracking down the driver. But after it became apparent that she would not be able to catch the culprit, her mother gave her the idea of devoting her life to promoting public safety. Soon after, Safe Moves was born.
To date, the organization has put on traffic safety rodeos at schools all over the United States, they've helped push through traffic safety legislation, and Hines has authored many books on the subject of child safety. She was officially recognized by President Bill Clinton for her efforts in the field.
Craig Goldman, superintendent for the Mountain View Whisman School District, says he is happy that Safe Moves has been able to bring their courses to his district. Before the traffic safety rodeo, Hubbard and the rest of the Safe Moves crew give a presentation to familiarize the children with the signs and obstacles they will encounter. Both the course and the rodeo are provided to all grades for free, thanks to a grant money provided to the city of Mountain View by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
"What's not to like?" Goldman asked, rhetorically. "They're a great organization providing an essential and free service for our district."
Almost 30 years later, Hines still doesn't like wearing a helmet, though she would never ride without one these days. While she loves the feeling of wind whipping through her hair, she says Latham would have had an 85 percent likelihood of surviving that crash if she had been wearing a helmet.
Hines is open with her students. She tells them that she would prefer not to wear a helmet. However, she explains that she wears one precisely because of how effective helmets have been proven to be in preventing serious injuries. She is open about her opinion of helmets for the same reason she has developed the traffic safety rodeo training program.
"Kids need to understand why they should obey the rules, not just because mom or dad says, 'I told you so.' You can only change behavior when kids can internalize the reasons behind the behavior and understand the consequences of the choices they make," Hines says.
It would seem that Huff fourth-grader Stephan Bannikov was beginning to do just that. After completing his run through the safety course, he said he knows why he needs to look over his left shoulder before entering an intersection -- because drivers often don't look to their right before making a right hand turn. He also knows that he needs to make eye contact with drivers, so he will know that they've seen him.
And it doesn't hurt that the traffic safety rodeo is also fun. "I liked it," Stephan says.