Each fall, back to school time hits and kids are back on the roads, whether their mode of transportation is a bus, a bicycle, or their own two feet, the roads are a much busier place, especially when it comes to pedestrians. According to research by the National Safety Council (NSC), “most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related incidents are 4 to 7 years old, and they’re walking. They are hit by the bus, or by a motorist illegally passing a stopped bus.”
Though drivers should always be cautious on the roads, it is especially important to act with extra caution around school buses and in school zones, particularly during before and after school hours. Talking to your children about safety guidelines is also crucial to keeping all students safe.
Drivers in a School Zone
Drivers, particularly in a school zone or neighborhoods near a school, should be extra cautious on the road. AAA and the NSC suggests these safety tips to keep everyone safe:
- Do not drive distracted – put your phone down.
- Slow down and follow the reduced speed limits in school zones during the required times.
- Come to a complete stop at stop signs and check carefully both ways before proceeding.
- When reversing, check for children around your vehicle and back out slowly.
- Do not block the crosswalk at a red light.
- Stop and yield to pedestrians wherever they might be crossing.
- Stop for patrol officers/crossing guards who are holding up a stop sign.
- Never pass a vehicle stopped to allow pedestrians to cross.
- Don’t honk or rev your engine at a pedestrian, even if you had the right of way.
- Watch for bicycles and slow down, allowing 3 feet of passing distance between you and the bicyclist.
If you are a parent dropping off your child for school, even though you are in a rush, be sure to follow all the school’s drop-off procedures. In addition, NSC suggests following these general rules:
- Don’t double park.
- Don’t load or unload children across the street from the school.
- Try to carpool to reduce traffic at the school.
School Bus Safety
Although buses are the safest form of transportation for students, it is still important for drivers to be mindful about how they share the road with school buses. During the school year, you should allow extra time for your commute and be patient with school buses and pedestrians. In general, the NSC says you should follow these rules when it comes to school buses:
- Allow greater following distance when you are behind a bus.
- Keep in mind that it is illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped to unload or load children – if the yellow or red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended traffic must stop (Note: if there is a divide only the traffic with the bus need stop, but if there is no divide, both directions of traffic must stop).
- Remain stopped until the boss retracts the stop arm and begins moving again.
- The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to allow them to safely enter/exit the bus.
- Be alert – children are often unpredictable.
Talk to Your Kids/Walking/Biking/Teen Driving
The other half of the equation for student safety is talking to your kids about guidelines surrounding their mode of transportation. Whether your children walk, bike, ride the bus, or even drive, there are some safety tips they should keep in mind to stay safe and keep others safe.
Walking. Walking to school is a great option for kids but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that “children under 10 years old should be accompanied by an adult or with someone who will make sure they walk safely.” If your child is walking to school, make sure that they understand these general safety rules:
- Use the sidewalk, when available, and if there isn’t a sidewalk, walk on the edge of the street facing traffic.
- Use marked crosswalks, when available, to cross the street, and look left-right-left for vehicles or bikes before crossing.
- Never play, push or shove others when you walk around traffic.
Biking. Riding your bike to school can be fun, but NHTSA says to be sure your kids know these safety rules before they pedal away:
- Always wear a correctly fitted helmet, and securely fasten the chin strap.
- Ride in the same direction as traffic and follow traffic signs and signals.
- Stay in the bike lane whenever possible.
- Never use electronics while riding.
Riding the Bus. As we already mentioned, school buses are the safest form of transportation for your child. NHTSA recommends teaching your kids to “play it SAFE:”
- Stay five steps away from the curb
- Always wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the bus driver tells you to board
- Face forward after finding a seat on the bus
- Exit the bus when it stops and look left-right-left for cars before crossing a street
Driving. For some teens, back to school means driving. Make sure that your teen driver knows the rules we covered above for driving in school zones and sharing the road with buses, but also ensure they follow these rules, redocumented by NHTSA:
- Everyone needs to buckle up.
- Follow the speed limit.
- Stay focused.
- Stay off your phone while driving and consider placing it in the glove box or other unreachable area to reduce distraction.