The demise of lollipop ladies and what's replacing them

Published: 25 April 2012

Just round the corner from where I live, a lollipop lady used to turn out every morning and every afternoon to dodge speeders and shepherd primary-school children across the road. Then, a little while ago, she disappeared. I don’t mean she’s a missing person or anything bad like that, but our 30mph zone became a lollipop-lady-free zone overnight.

For a little while I wandered about tutting and tsking and moaning about government cuts and austerity and all that; I almost wrote to the Daily Mail.

Why lollipop ladies are disappearing from UK streets

While attempting to be a proper journalist, I spoke to one of the school governor’s who told me it wasn’t the government what did it at all. The problem, they explained, lies with recruiting lollipop ladies in twenty-first century Britain.

Think about it: lollipop ladies work very few hours, and those hours are fairly low-paid, but because those hours are spread across the day from Monday to Friday, there’s not an awful lot else they can do with their time. Nobody wants the gig. Lollipop lady disappears.

Instead, daft little crossings consisting of dotted white lines and ‘look left, look right’ painted onto the side of the road are starting to replace lollipop ladies.

A slow erosion of standards or the inevitable future of road crossing?

They’re daft because the crossings suggest some kind of right of way to the pedestrians who approach them, and yet, for motorists, they’re almost entirely invisible. So the first obvious problem is that children might step into the road thinking they’ve got right of way, only for an unsuspecting motorist to mow them down. This is bad, but it gets worse: as local motorists become accustomed to the crossing’s existence, so they stop their cars to allow waiting children to cross.

This then opens the possibility of a child being waved into the road, only for a car that’s approaching the stopped car to overtake it because the approaching motorist can’t figure out why on earth another motorist would be stopping in such a strange place. Or a car coming in the opposite direction might just keep on going.

Either way, the kid who perhaps wasn’t going to cross the road is now at serious risk of being hit. There’s a third possibility, of course, and that’s just what happened the other day in actual real life: one car stopped, and the dozy so-and-so approaching from behind didn’t notice and slammed straight into the back of them. For a 30mph zone, the carnage was considerable, and it was only luck that stopped there from being a child in the path of the car that was punted over the crossing as a result.

It’s pretty astonishing that these crossings have appeared at all, so obvious are the risks associated with them. What we need is a proper zebra crossing or a set of traffic lights or, better still, a brand new lollipop lady. Rubbish hours, low pay, luminous green uniform. Any takers?

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By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator