Your kids may be excited about the new school year, but the thought fills you with dread. You can’t help but imagine cars zipping through stop signs, bus drivers who speed along their routes, and even the other parents too busy on their cell phones to look behind them before backing up. Unfortunately, these fears are well-founded, as the beginning of each school year places children at increased risk of car, pedestrian, and bicycle accident injuries.
What Drivers Can Do to Avoid a School Zone Accident
While this time of year can be especially risky for young children, a little preparation can help both kids and drivers become more aware of the dangers around them. Now is the perfect time for drivers to brush up on the traffic laws surrounding school zones, and take extra care when they are:
- Driving near schools. Children are most likely to be struck by cars within walking distance of a school. Drivers should take note of all school zone signs, and slow down anywhere kids are likely to be present. Drivers should be prepared to stop when crossing guards hold up their stop sign or the pedestrian flashers are blinking, and should be hyper-vigilant in school zones in the hour before and after school.
- Following a school bus. It is illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped. If you're driving behind a bus, allow a generous following distance in case the bus turn on its yellow or red lights to signal a stop. If the bus stops, leave at least two car lengths behind the bus to allow children enough room to get on and off.
- Dropping kids off or picking them up. Parents may wish to think that their children are safe on school grounds, but many children are struck by other parents rushing to pick up their own children. The best way to avoid these accidents is to follow all of your school’s pick-up and drop-off procedures to the letter, and advise other parents who are putting children at risk. In addition, don't double park or drop children off across the street from the school.
- Approaching crosswalks. Whether you have children or not, it is your duty as a driver to stop for pedestrians. Never block the crosswalk, pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians, or honk your horn at pedestrians at a stop, since it can force pedestrians to scatter into traffic. Stay on the alert for children walking to and from school, and be aware that kids may not always obey traffic laws or be paying attention.
- Driving near bicyclists. Children riding bikes their bikes to school are at high risk of being struck by cars, especially when a driver turns left in front of the bicyclist. When driving near schools or residential neighborhoods, watch for bikes coming from driveways or darting through parked cars. Reverse slowly out of a driveway (or back your car in at night) to avoid backing-out car crashes, and always check your side mirrors before opening your doors after parking.
Back-to-School Safety Tips for Parents and Children
Learning about science and history can prepare your child for the future, but learning about traffic safety can save his life. Take over the role of teacher and quiz your kids, making sure they know the safety rules when:
- Riding the bus. Children should wait at the bus stop at least six feet away from the curb to avoid being hit by passing cars. Kids should know which bus they ride, and only begin to board the bus only after the driver has motioned for them to get on. If your child needs to cross the street in front of the bus, he or she should walk 10 feet ahead of the bus and wait for the driver to motion that it is safe. Never stand, walk, or cross the street behind a bus, since the bus driver may not be able to see you.
- Riding a bike. Before your child can ride alone to school, make sure he knows how to signal, brake, and obey the rules of the road. It is safest for children to ride on the sidewalk and walk their bikes through crosswalks. Test your child’s helmet to make sure it fits properly, and make sure he wears it for every ride.
- Walking to school. Children who walk to school should always follow the same route, preferably one that has school crossing guards stationed in intersections. If possible, design the route with the home of a friend (or trusted adult) halfway between the child’s home and the school. Teach your children not to accept rides from anyone they don’t know, and never to talk to strangers. Always walk on sidewalks and cross only at crosswalks, looking left, right and left again before crossing. Make sure siblings walk together or with friends rather than alone.
Last, but not least: if your child is driven to school, make sure everyone buckles up—and that older siblings know the risks of teen driving. Most school zone injuries are completely preventable—it just takes a little know-how! Please share this article on Facebook or via email to make sure your friends are fully prepared for the new school year.