The phrase “back to school” is met with groans from some and cries of excitement from others (especially parents), but no matter what your feelings are about heading back to school, one thing is for certain: it’s a time of change, when adjusting to new schedules and life patterns in conjunction with shorter daylight hours and new teen drivers on the road can make transportation to and from school dangerous.
BACK-TO-SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), “from 2003 to 2012, 174 school-age children died in school-transportation-related crashes – 55 were occupants of school transportation vehicles (this includes any vehicle used to transport a child to or from school) and 119 were pedestrians.”
The NHTSA considers school buses, “one of the safest forms of transportation on the road today,” and states that, “riding a bus to school is 13 times safer than riding in a passenger vehicle and 10 times safer than walking to school.” In the majority of cases, children who are injured on their way to or from school are struck outside of the school bus either by the bus or by a car illegally passing a bus.
BACK TO SCHOOL SAFETY TIPS FOR MOTORISTS
We’ve covered pedestrian safety from the viewpoint of what the pedestrian can do and the measures they can take to ensure their own safety, but what can motorists do to make the roads safer for children traveling to and from school? Regardless of whether or not you have children of your own, it’s a great time of year to brush up on your knowledge of traffic safety, because when school is in session everyone on the road needs to be more vigilant. The National Safety Council (NSC) offers the following tips for sharing the road with buses, walkers and bicyclists:
All 50 states have a law making it illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children.
School buses use yellow flashing lights to alert motorists that they are preparing to stop to load or unload children. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm signals to motorists that the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off the bus.
All 50 states require that traffic in both directions stop on undivided roadways when students are entering or exiting a school bus. (Note: in the state of Minnesota, traffic on the opposite side of a divided roadway is not required to stop.)
The area 10 feet around a school bus is where children are in the most danger of being hit. Stop your car far enough from the bus to allow children the necessary space to safely enter and exit the bus.
Never pass a school bus on the right. It is illegal and could have tragic consequences.
Drivers should not block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn. Do not stop with a portion of your vehicle over the crosswalk. Blocking the crosswalk forces pedestrians to go around your vehicle and puts them in a dangerous situation.
In a school zone when a warning flasher or flashers are blinking, you must stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.
Always stop when directed to do so by a school patrol sign, school patrol officer or designated crossing guard.
Don’t honk your horn, rev your engine or do anything to rush or scare a pedestrian in front of your car, even if you have the legal right-of-way.
When passing a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction, do so slowly and leave at least a distance between you and the bicycle of no less than 3 feet. Maintain this clearance until you have safely passed the bicycle.
When your vehicle is turning left and there is a bicyclist entering the intersection from the opposite direction, you should wait for the bicyclist to pass before making the turn.
If your vehicle is turning right and a bicyclist is approaching on the right, let the bicyclist go through the intersection first before making a right turn. Remember to always use your turn signals.
Watch for bicycle riders turning in front of you without looking or signaling, especially if the rider is a child.
Take extra precautions in school zones and neighborhood areas where children and teenagers might be riding.
Watch out for bikes coming out of driveways or from behind parked cars or other obstructions.
Check side mirrors for bicyclists before opening the door. Some communities may fine drivers for collisions caused by opening a vehicle door in the path of a bicyclist.
Finally, no matter if you are traveling by car, walking, or riding a bike one of the best things you can do to ensure your own safety and the safety of others is to stay off your cell phone while in transit to and from school. Cell phones have been shown time and again to take people out of the moment and distract them from their surroundings. Make this autumn a great time for heading back to school by putting in the effort to keep everyone safe.