Parents can do much to make sure their kids will have a safe commute, but children’s safety is the responsibility of all drivers.
This is the second part of a two-article series presenting useful safety tips and reminders for school children and their parents. For the first part, click here.
In the previous article, we discussed safety reminders for parents whose children commute to school on foot or by bike. This article deals with risks related to commuting to school by bus as well as potential dangers that can be encountered by those who drive their kids to school. Throughout the article, families will find practical suggestions and advice on what to do to ensure maximum safety for young commuters. The article will also stress how important it is that all the motorists take extra care while driving as the school year starts.
Riding the School Bus
Even though school bus crashes or school-bus-related accidents usually draw lots of media attention, commuting to school on board a designated bus remains, statistically speaking, one of the safest ways kids can get to school. It is estimated that there are 480,000 school buses in the U.S. that drive about 10 billion miles per year. As mentioned in Part I of this two-article series, out of 324 school-aged children who died in school-transportation-related accidents between 2004 and 2013, 54 were occupants of school transportation vehicles. Although these statistics by no means make these deeply saddening deaths any less tragic, they still show that a school-bus commute has a relatively good safety record.
Of course, on-the-road accidents are just one type of risk that bus commuter kids are exposed to. Many accidents happen while boarding or disembarking a bus. Thus, parents should still make sure that their child avoids any potential dangers related to school bus commutes by reviewing the following practical tips:
- arrive at the bus stop early
- do not approach the bus before it comes to a complete stop
- while on the bus, stay seated at all times, do not lean out the window and keep your head and arms inside
- do not get up or start exiting the bus until it comes to a complete stop
- while exiting, use the handrail to avoid tripping and falling
- if you need to cross the street after getting off, wait for the driver to signal that it is safe to do so
Driving Kids to School and Ensuring a Safe Drop-off
Parents who drive their children to school can do much to ensure the safety of their own kids as well as that of other drivers and pupils, both on the way to school and while driving through the school zones. Having good driving habits and avoiding bad ones can make all the difference between a safe commute and a tragedy. Some good habits include always wearing a seatbelt and keeping kids under the age of 12 in the back seat, as children occupying the front seat are 40% more likely to get injured in an accident.
Many adults drop off their children at school on their way to work. During the morning commute, a parent’s thoughts may already be revolving around work-related matters. It may be tempting to reach for the smartphone to check e-mails or messages and give the working day a head start. Nevertheless, using the phone while driving should be avoided at all costs. First, the use of a handheld device while driving became illegal in the state of Rhode Island as of June 29 this year. Second, and perhaps more important, distracted driving is extremely dangerous; in 2015, it was the main cause of 3,477 fatalities and an estimated 391,000 injuries.
As mentioned above, the daily commutes become more stressful with the start of the school year due to increased traffic and frequent congestions. This, in turn, may contribute to an increase in the instances of road rage. In order to avoid becoming a victim of road rage, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety advises drivers to avoid driving behaviors that can be potentially seen as offensive and confrontational, such as cutting off, driving slowly in the left lane or tailgating. In case it is suspected that another driver tries to engage in aggressive actions, it is advisable to try to get help or drive to a place where there are people around, (for example, a hospital or a police station). Granted, taking such an unplanned detour may result in running late to school and work but it will help both parents and children to stay safe.
As different schools have different and specific drop-off procedures, a parent should make sure to get acquainted with all the pertaining rules and regulations. While driving through school zones, parents should exercise extreme caution, as statistics show that more children are hit in the vicinity of schools than in any other location. The National Safety Council provides the following advisements:
- avoid parking alongside a vehicle that is already parked on the side of the road, also known as double parking
- avoid dropping children off across the street from their school
- if possible, carpool, as this will reduce the number of vehicles on the roads and at the school
The Responsibility of all Motorists
More school buses, young cyclists and young pedestrians on the roads inevitably create more opportunities for things to go awry. For example, National Safety Council research indicates that many fatal bus-related accidents involved young pedestrians, aged 4-7 years old who were hit by the bus or by a vehicle that was illegally passing a stopped bus. As the school year starts, it is even more important for motorists to exercise care and caution, especially while driving near residential areas, playgrounds, schools or zones that youngsters are likely to pass on their way to school. The following safety tips for motorists are based on National Safety Council recommendations:
- while stopped at the traffic lights, do not block the crosswalk as this creates a dangerous situation wherein pedestrians are forced to go around your vehicle
- never pass a vehicle that stopped to let pedestrians pass
- never pass a bus that has stopped for children to embark or disembark as it is illegal in all 50 states
- stop within a safe distance from a bus, which is the area within 10 feet around the bus and is where most accidents take place
- when passing a child on a bicycle, leave a space of about three feet between your vehicle and the cyclist