Feb. 3, 2023 - The untimely death of six-year-old Emma Bell Savoie was a wake-up call.

As we approach the first anniversary of her passing, her parents and friends want to remind Louisiana drivers to be more aware of child safety on children’s campuses, parking lots, and school zones. Toward that aim, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission encourages everyone in the state to follow their lead and wear yellow on February 15, 2023.

Dr. Andrew Pizza, Emergency Medicine Director at Slidell Memorial Hospital, knew Emma Bell personally. After suffering the tragedy of her loss, Dr. Pizza, along with her parents, Brent and Amy, formed the Safe Path to School Task Force, a part of the Emma Bell Foundation.

Their mission is simple: to increase the safety of children going to and from school. Their goal is simpler and aligns with the goal of LHSC: to save lives.

“More specifically, we encourage schools to analyze the infrastructure on campus — of their parking lots where drop-off and pickups occur,” Dr. Pizza said. “We emphasize improvements in crosswalks, paint, signage, and speed calming measures, such as speed bumps and safety bollards in parking lots.

“We recognize there is a deficiency in these areas that is different than public streets. We emphasize and highlight to others that parking lots are high-risk areas, and that slow-moving vehicles are dangerous to pedestrians, especially children.”

In the fall of 2022, the initial outreach of the task force began with elementary and middle schools in Slidell, Louisiana, where they have already made tangible changes in the community. Local officials such as council members, police, and Slidell Mayor Greg Cromer got on board.

“The loss of Emma Bell was a huge loss to our community and all who knew her,” Mayor Cromer said. “Hopefully we will use this tragedy to bring greater awareness to our children in our community and all communities across the country. February 15, Yellow Shirt Day, is just a small token commemorating Emma’s memory and raising awareness to ensure a safer future for all children. We, the City of Slidell, are honored to play a small part in this grand scheme.”

Their work brings hope that government grants can be established between state representatives, the Director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, and the St. Tammany Regional Coordinator for the Louisiana Safety Coalition.

“We are extremely proud of our natural resources in Louisiana, and we know, to a certainty, that our children are our most precious resource,” LHSC Executive Director Lisa Freeman said. “Louisiana Highway Safety Commission is gratified to have the opportunity to work with the Emma Bell Foundation to move the needle in the right direction for child safety. Our commitment to our children and communities demands that we make school safety a priority. That’s precisely how we honor Emma’s memory and how we prevent future tragedies.”

Yellow is the color of safety. It is used to designate signage and safety within school zones, parking lots, pedestrian areas, school buses, and vests. By wearing yellow free dress on Wednesday, February 15, you are raising awareness. The task force is also encouraging communities to show their gratitude to school crossing guards and bus drivers with gifts and letters of thanks.

Lastly, the task force wishes to impart the following points:
·       Yielding to pedestrians is state law.
·       Two children per week are killed by rollovers in the U.S.
·       Fifty percent are front rollovers.
·       Many school infrastructures are lacking much-needed safety.

“We also encourage process improvement and standardization between schools on best practice guidelines for drop-off and pickup in car lines,” Dr. Pizza said. “We encourage education to teachers, students, and parents on best practices and to speak up when they see anything unsafe. We anticipate our group as being leaders for change in all of these areas and giving guidance to others who seek change at their school.”

The task force encourages everyone who participates to post photos of their yellow free dress day to social media. Use #safepath2school when posting photos showing support and solidarity. For more information, email [email protected].