By: Matt Konkle
That’s how many children are, or have, headed back to schools all across the country as yet another year begins for students.
It is certainly an emotional time for everyone involved. And busy. And, yes, definitely distracting. Whether piling kids into the car before sunrise so you can get that good drop-off line spot, or rushing to get everybody out the door before the bus comes so you can get to work, we are all on the go this time of year. Even if you do not have children, it still means a lot of busses on the road and a lot of children walking to school when you are driving.
A lot of chances, sadly, for accidents.
According to a report by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, autumn is the most dangerous time of year for pedestrians, accounting for over 29 percent of all pedestrian-related fatalities. The early morning and afternoon hours are particularly dangerous for children as nearly one in four child pedestrian fatalities occur either between 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. or 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., per insurance statistics collected by AAA.
A recent study from the US Department of Justice concurred; adding that child injuries and deaths are also markedly higher near school zones thanks to a ‘dangerous mess of cars pulling over and carelessly merging back into traffic’, speeding to make up time, or thanks to a ‘perverse’ sense of road rage.
“One can view such threats to child safety as both a cause and a symptom of school congestion,” said the DOJ report. “On the one hand, parental concerns about traffic hazards could lead more parents to drive their children to school, thereby increasing congestion. On the other hand, traffic congestion could lead to more child pedestrian accidents, with backed up cars blocking the views of small children crossing the street to enter school.”
So with the school year heating up, here are six important safety tips from the National Safety Council that may seem like common sense, but still serve as a good reminder for drivers everywhere.
The speed limit in school zones is reduced to 25 mph for a reason. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood. Also, look for children playing near bus stops. Cover the brake pedal with your foot while scanning the road for kids when entering a marked school zone. Remember to always come to a complete stop at stop signs, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
Yield to School Busses
Exercise caution when approaching a school bus or driving near bus stops. NEVER pass a school bus while its lights are flashing and children are entering or exiting the bus. Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop and load or unload children. You should slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop arm indicate that children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving. You may also have to stop if traveling in the opposite direction of the bus and it has stopped with red flashing lights, depending on the circumstances and laws in your state. Also, don't tailgate a school bus as they make frequent and sudden stops. Finally, when school busses are trying to merge back into traffic, you must give them the right of way.
Be Alert and Eliminate Distractions
Be aware that children often behave unpredictably, so keep an eye out for kids darting into the street or crossing without first looking both ways for traffic. On streets without crossing guards, pay special attention to children trying to cross the street. Be especially careful on streets without sidewalks or streets with on-street parking as it may be hard to notice a child emerging from behind a car. Refrain from using your phone in congested areas and NEVER send text messages while you're driving.
Check for children on the sidewalk, driveway and around your vehicle before slowly backing up. If you have children, teach them to never play in, under or around vehicles – even those that are parked.
Watch for Bicycles
Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and the bicycle. Always keep an eye out for bicyclists in hot spots like marked school zones, bike lanes and near bus stops.
Look Out for New/Inexperienced Drivers
When driving (especially near high school campuses), keep in mind that many of the motorists you encounter may be teens hitting the road for the first time. While learning to drive, teens may be overly tentative or make unexpected maneuvers. Be patient, forgiving and remember to practice your defensive driving techniques.
"Remember, it's never more important for drivers to slow down and pay attention than when kids are present – especially before and after school," said the National Safety Council in its statement.