The new school year is here, and with it comes the rush of back-to-school preparations. But in the scramble to buy notebooks, #2 pencils, and the perfect pair of sneakers, it’s worth taking a moment to consider your child’s route to school and back again every weekday. Kids travel between home and school in a variety of ways: some are driven by parents, while others take the school bus, walk, or ride a bike. There are benefits to each of these, depending on a family’s situation, but each method comes with its own hazards as well. Considering these possible dangers carefully can help you plan the safest commute possible for your child.
Data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals the dangers that the daily trip to school can hold for kids. NHTSA statistics show that the hours of 7 to 8 AM and 3 to 4 PM are the two deadliest hours of the day for school-aged pedestrians. However, kids who walk to school aren’t necessarily in the most danger. Of the 327 deaths of children en route to or from school in the years 2004-2013, 116 fatalities were walkers, and another 9 were on bikes. By comparison, 147 of the student deaths were among children in motor vehicles not associated with the school (such as parents’ cars), and there were 54 fatalities on school buses. There is no single perfectly safe way for your child to go to school, but there are precautions you can take to help keep them safer.
If you drive your child to school, the most obvious way to keep them safe is to drive as safely as you can. Avoid using mobile devices or engaging in other driving distractions. Follow all traffic signs and signals, and keep alert for children crossing or entering the road, especially as you approach the school. If your child is younger than 8, make sure that he or she is properly secured in an appropriate safety seat; older children should sit in the back seat with seat belts properly fastened. When you drop your child off at school, let them off where they will not have to cross a street.
For children who ride the bus, it’s critical to make sure that the child understands proper and safe behavior when riding. They should wait for the bus to arrive while staying 6 feet away from the curb, and only board when instructed to do so by the bus driver. Once boarded, they should find a seat promptly, stay sitting in their seat and facing forward while the bus is moving, and obey the instructions of the driver and any other safety monitors. After exiting the bus, they should only cross the street in front of the bus, at least 10 feet away so the driver can see them, and be sure to look both ways for traffic.
Many parents are anxious about allowing children to walk to school, especially younger kids. If possible, it’s best for children to walk with an adult or a responsible older sibling, or as part of a group. Try to plan your child’s walking route before the school year begins, ensuring that there are safe sidewalks for the whole route. If there are no sidewalks, the child should stay as close as possible to the edge of the road and walk facing traffic. (Note that this is not true for bike riders!) Dress your child in bright, easily visible clothing, and emphasize the importance of crossing streets only at corners, crosswalks, or walk lights, as applicable. Your child should remain alert while walking – a particular challenge in the age of Pokemon Go – and especially when crossing streets.
Relatively few bike fatalities were reported by the NHTSA, likely in part due to the comparatively few children who bike to school. For those who do, a properly fitted bicycle helmet must be worn at all times. A helmet protects your child’s brain, and can literally mean the difference between life and death in a crash. Both the bike and the rider should be clearly visible to motorists, with bright colors and reflectors. Your child should be proficient in riding their bike and understand all the traffic rules they are expected to follow. Unlike pedestrians, riders should bike in the same direction as car traffic. Choose a route with less traffic and slower speed limits, and ensure that your child avoids distractions while riding.
When driving during school commute hours and near school zones, stay alert. Children are smaller than adults and can be hard to spot, especially as they often move quickly and unpredictably. Younger children especially don’t realize they are hard to see, and may not always notice oncoming vehicles.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact us for a free consultation.
OG Post by: Francis M. Smith