Take Note

December 12, 2001 1 min read

Secret Weapon

Dale Rooks sees a car coming toward him, too fast. So the volunteer crossing guard pulls out his trusty hair dryer and points it at the car. Sure enough, the driver frantically pumps the brake and slows down near A.K. Suter Elementary School.

After 10 years as a crossing guard for the 300-student school in Pensacola, Fla., the restaurant owner has finally found a sure way to get people to go slow when entering the school zone.

“I’ve tried everything—signs, flags, whistles. You name it. Even yelling, but people kept flying by not paying attention,” Mr. Rooks said. Drivers often reached speeds of 40 to 50 mph in a zone where the limit is only 20 mph.

Then an idea struck Mr. Rooks. He got a blow dryer from the school surplus office and wrapped it in black electrical tape, shaping the soft curves of the machine into a thick, square-headed muzzle similar to a radar gun’s.

It worked like a charm, said John DeWitt, the chairman of the Escambia County school board. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “The PTA had gone out several times and held up signs trying to get people to slow down, but they never had any luck.”

But luck has nothing to do with the effectiveness of Mr. Rooks’ new prop, in use this fall. “People are in a hurry, they’re talking on their cellphones, and a little school zone isn’t going to make them ease up on the gas,” Mr. Rooks said.

School officials checked with the police department to make sure it was legal to use the dryer. “I was a little shocked that it worked,” said Police Chief Jerry Potts, who tested its effectiveness, “but it does. From a distance you can’t really tell the difference, and a real radar gun is built almost exactly like a hair dryer.”

Police officials determined that there was no law prohibiting pointing a hair dryer at traffic.

Mr. Rooks admitted that most drivers’ reactions to the by now well-known blow dryer are probably reflexive. “They see it and they know: Slow down.”

—Marianne Hurst

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2001 edition of Education Week