By Coco Cornish, Sofia Olson, and Ryann Drue, Staff Writers and Videographer
// It’s 7:58 a.m. and you have two minutes until the bell for class rings. You see the last spot available and drive towards it, much faster than the 5 mph speed limit. In the process of trying to park quickly, you scrape the car next to you and are faced with a tough choice: do you stop and leave a note, or flee and risk the possibility of a felony conviction?
Some of the greatest problems of the Acalanes parking lot for students include its lack of spaces, traffic before and after school, as well as the accidents which often result from the sea of chaos created by the combination of the previous two.
The Acalanes parking lot has gained infamous repute from its popularity as a student gathering spot in recent years. While it is known as a weekend meeting place, the lot is a cesspool of impatient parents, scrambling teens, new drivers, and reckless individuals during the weekday.
Many students are involved in minor accidents, but hit-and-runs prove more serious.
During the busy winter finals week, senior Kate Schirmer walked out to her car and found a large dent. While accidents are not unusual, fixing the damage becomes difficult when hit-and-runs occur.
“I walked out after finals, and I could see that there was a reasonably sized dent in the back of the car,” Schirmer said. “There was no note or anything, so I was unsure of what to do.”
Under California Vehicle Code Section 20001, if a car is hit, the offender “must stop their vehicle and remain at the scene and they must provide identification to the other parties involved and/or law enforcement.” Similarly, under California state law, hit-and-runs are considered either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the case.
Despite the severe consequences of hit-and-runs, many car accidents in the parking lot go unreported to administration.
If a hit-and-run is reported, students meet with an associate principal or Campus Supervisor Andy Macdonald to resolve the incident.
Schirmer worked with Associate Principals Andrea Powers and Mike Plant, as well as McDonald, sifting through hours of surveillance footage to find the perpetrator. They successfully identified the car involved and the responsible student.
Administrators then brought in both families to review the footage and confirmed that this student hit Schirmer’s car. Schirmer then exchanged insurance and received payment to fix her vehicle. Although the situation was eventually resolved, simply leaving a note would have spared the hassle for both parties.
“I think that accidents happen pretty often and it is a crime, so it’s always better to leave a note especially when the damage costs a couple grand to fix,” Schirmer said.
Although in the case of Schirmer the offender was identified, many incidents in the parking lot are not picked up by cameras and go unsolved. Sometimes, the perpetrator is never found, and parents or insurance companies are forced to pay the cost of damages inflicted on their property.
To prevent this problem, administration patrols the parking lot during busy times of the day, such as before and after school when the lot is flooded with students, faculty and, parents.
The parking lot is equipped with designated staff parking spots, but for students it is a free-for-all, first come first serve, battle to get a spot in the morning. Students who buy a parking pass are not guaranteed parking, as more passes are sold than there are available spots, and many who do not arrive early are forced to venture off campus to park.
“I haven’t had anyone come to me with problems of students parking around the area, but I’m sure if students park illegally outside of school, the Lafayette Police Department would ticket them,” Plant said.
Unfortunately, the only solution is for students to arrive earlier, as there is no room to expand the parking lot.
Adding to the hectic environment of the parking lot are parents in a rush to pick up and drop off their kids. These parents park along the side of the school and decrease the potential three lanes of traffic to a meager one lane.
Although the increased traffic from parents angers many students, it is difficult to find practical pick-up or drop-off areas close to the school. With no designated turn-around area, parents take up space needed to make a swift exit from campus.
“It’s kind of annoying when you are trying to get out of the parking lot after school and there are lines of parents picking up their kids. They take up half the parking lot and we are all just trapped there,” junior Daphne Ganter said.
The crowded environment coupled with inexperienced new drivers creates an atmosphere in which fender benders are all too common.
However, sometimes more serious incidents occur. McDonald is currently working to find a car that hit a student in the parking lot and drove off. While the student was not injured, the hit-and-run was jarring and prompted fear of a repeated, and possibly more damaging, incidence.
Another, more recent, problem that McDonald has observed is students using the entrance to leave school to avoid waiting in line for the exit. The entrance is one-way and students who use it as an exit endanger those trying to enter the parking lot.
McDonald occasionally is forced to sit at the entrance to block students from abusing it.
“The frustrating part for me is when kids are driving too fast and trying to leave through the exit,” McDonald said. “I get kids want to get home, but it’s part of a traffic issue that kids have to obey.”
Some of this dangerous driving clearly continues outside of the Acalanes parking lot, as concerned community members have repeatedly contacted the school with license plate numbers or descriptions of cars and their teen drivers. The complaints filter to McDonald who cautions kids to drive safely in and out of school.
For reasons of safety, and to limit illicit activity, Acalanes administration attempts to prevent students from venturing toward the parking lot. McDonald watches the parking lot during break and lunch to ensure that students are not spending too much time in their cars while at school.
“We try to be reasonable. The rule there is that you just have to come ask permission and permission will always be granted,” Plant said. “We are just trying to make sure that people aren’t in their car unsupervised for any length of time because we know what happens. That’s one of the places that people go and vape.”
Administrators and faculty hope that students will comply with traffic rules and practice safe driving.
“Some people are going to drive like jerks. Everyone has the same safety message when the learn to drive: drive polite, drive appropriately, and drive safely,” Plant said.
Watch the video below to see the chaos first-hand.