The start of the school year should be the time for the families to revise safety recommendations and for motorists to drive extra carefully.
This is the first part of a two-article series presenting useful safety tips and reminders for school children and their parents. Click here for the second part.
As the days become a little shorter and the temperatures a little less inviting to enjoy outdoor activities, schoolchildren and their parents alike are preparing to face the inevitable – the end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year. Each new year brings new challenges, joys, and concerns of families, so both pupils and parents look forward to it with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. There is, however, one key issue that remains equally important with each passing year, and it affects even those who do not have school-age children. That issue is school transportation safety.
School days bring to American roads substantially more traffic. More traffic often means congestion. This translates into more time spent in daily commutes. As a consequence, many drivers who get stuck in traffic stress out about running late for work and getting behind schedule before their work day even begins. All of these factors combined make car commuters more prone to negligent or reckless behaviors, such as ignoring risks, overlooking dangers and making bad driving decisions that often lead to accidents. Sadly, all too often those who fall victim to those accidents are the ones that society should protect the most – our children.
According to data gathered by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2004 and 2013, there were 1,214 fatal crashes classified as school-transportation-related accidents. A total of 1,344 people were killed in those accidents, out of which 327 were school children. 54 of those kids died while commuting in a school transportation vehicle, 147 were occupants of other vehicles, 116 were pedestrians, and 9 were cyclists.
The death of any child is deeply saddening but what makes school-transportation-related accidents so troublesome is that most of them can be avoided if sufficient care is exercised by all parties involved. Therefore, families with school-age children, school-bus drivers, and even ordinary car commuters will do well to review some basic safety reminders.
This two-article series will present some of the practical steps that can be taken. In this article, readers will find reminders that are especially useful for parents whose children either walk to school or commute on a bike. The following post will deal with safety-related issues of bus riding and of driving children to school.
Good Planning is Necessary
Whether a child walks to school, rides to school on a bike or is shuttled in the passenger seat of the family car, the parent has the responsibility to ensure that there will be as few potential risks and dangers en route as possible. This will obviously require good planning and likely a little bit of research as well.
When a Child Walks to School
If a child goes to school on foot, the parent should plan the route that is most direct, features sidewalks and has the fewest street crossings. If it is necessary for a child to cross the street, the parent should stress the importance of doing so only on a crosswalk, after looking both ways for any oncoming traffic. It is advisable that a parent accompany the child at least one or two times so that they can both “rehearse” the route. It will also give the parent the opportunity to notice additional dangers and warn the child about them.
A parent should also remind their child to never talk to strangers and to avoid sparsely populated areas. For safety reasons, it is best when a child is always accompanied by a sibling or a school friend. Not only will this serve as a protection from predatory individuals, but it can also cut down on instances of bullying which often happens on the way to and from school.
When a Child Bikes to School
Summer is quickly winding down, but as long as it remains relatively warm and dry many children will use bikes as their preferred means of commute. In this case, too, the parent should take time to choose the safest, most direct route. Rhode Island traffic and bike laws do allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks and particularly for children, this is the safest place to ride. Nevertheless, in the event that a child does need to ride their bike in the street, parents should make sure that their children are acquainted with the basic rules of traffic safety, such as:
- ride on the right side, in the direction of the traffic, and in a single file
- stop completely before crossing the street
- walk bike across the street
Parents should also be aware that much can be done for the safety of their child even before they get on a bike. First of all, parents should ensure that their children have a well-fitted helmet that meets safety standards. Research shows that using a helmet reduces the risk of sustaining head injury by up to 85% . Moreover, parents should check that all parts of the bicycle, especially the brakes, are working properly and that no service or maintenance is needed. Parents should also be sure that their child is wearing safe and appropriate clothing for cycling. A child should not wear loose clothes that could get tangled in pedals or spokes. Both the bicycle and the child’s outfit should feature reflective surfaces and bright colors to make them more visible to drivers.