Back to School Commuting Safety Checklist

It’s already that time of year! Retailers are pushing the school supplies, summer vacation is coming to an end, and it is time to kick off another exciting school year. Maybe your kids have already started class or perhaps it is their first time at a new school. It’s never too late to remind them on how to get to and from to school safely, no matter what their mode of transportation is. Safety should be the first lesson for every child at the start of a new school year. Tragically, from 2006 to 2015 there were 301 school-age children (18 and younger) killed in school transportation-related crashes. Whether children walk, bike, drive in a car or take the bus to school, it is vitally important that they – and the motorists around them – take proper safety precautions. At Jessup, we have put together several essentials to remember for keeping kids safe when going to and from the school and how drivers can help.

Walking or Biking to School

backto-school-smallWalking and biking is still a very popular way to get to school, especially when the weather is nice. By choosing one of these transportation methods to get your child to school, you can be contributing to the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity your child needs every day. Not only that, but these kids are helping to reduce pollution. It’s no wonder that the travel patterns reported in 2016 by the National Center’s study of 720,000 parent surveys from 6,500 schools show a promising upward trend: walking to and from school increased from less than 14 percent to more than 17 percent of all school trips between 2007-08 and 2014. However, not all children may be ready to walk or bike to school (especially without an adult), so first make sure you discuss the potential dangers they could come across and what sharing the road means so they can practice safe pedestrian and biking behaviors.

Essentials to remember when walking to school:

  • Wear slip-resistant, comfortable shoes. With kids having a tendency to run, this will greatly prevent the slip and fall risks.
  • Stop and look left, right, left again before crossing streets, obey traffic signals, and let the school crossing guard help you.
  • Never dart out in front of parked cars or around blind corners. Remind your children that drivers may not always see them.
  • If your child carriers a phone be sure they put it away while walking. Slip and fall accidents are too common because of looking down at phones and you are much less aware of traffic.
  • Ideally, every walker should have at least one buddy to walk with. Make sure they know how to say “no” if someone approaches them.
  • Choose brightly colored backpacks, jackets, and other accessories, ideally with reflective materials for days when it begins to get dark earlier.

Parents are encouraged to practice walking to school with their child before the school year, crossing streets at crosswalks when available. Walking school buses have also gained popularity, which means you invite families in your neighborhood to walk children to school together as a group. It’s also a great opportunity for some chat time with your kids.

Essentials to remember when biking to school:

  • Ensure that your child has a securely fitted helmet before the school year starts.
  • Practice hand signals to use when they are turning and make sure they know when to use them.
  • Take the route several times together before the school year so they are comfortable when the first day arrives.
  • Teach your child the rules of the road: riding single file on the right side of the road, coming to a complete stop before crossing the street and walk the bike across. Never ride facing traffic as almost one-fourth of bicycle-car collisions result from bicyclists riding against traffic.
  • Consider investing in slip resistant bike pedals and comfortable, slip resistant shoes- especially if your child’s ride is long.
  • Make sure bike tire tread is good before heading out. Especially on wet days, this could prevent a potential slip and fall.

Ultimately it is up to you as the parent to decide if bike riding is something your child is ready for. Use your judgment about letting older children bike in traffic, considering how heavy the road traffic is where they will be riding. Always practice the bike route together ahead of time to make sure your child can manage it and ensure there is plenty of daylight if they are taking to the streets.

Parents can support and encourage community programs for walkers and bikers with resources offered through organizations such as Safe Routes to School. These include walkability checklists to score your community, for example, and national events such as Bike to School Day each spring and Walk to School Day in fall.

Riding the School Bus

Riding the bus to school can be an exciting and nervous time, especially if it is your child’s first year on the bus. Parents can rest a little easier because the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road. In fact, students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus versus a car. That is because school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road and in every state, stop-arm laws protect children from other motorists making it illegal for drivers to pass the school bus while it is dropping or picking up passengers regardless of the directional approach.

Essentials to remember when riding the school bus:

  • Six to eight percent of all non-collision accidents happen while patrons are exiting or entering the bus. Hold onto the handrail when entering and exiting the bus to prevent tripping and falling on the bus stairs, especially on rainy or snowy days.
  • Never stand on the bus when it is moving.
  • Line up before the bus approaches 6 feet away (three giant steps) from where it will stop.
  • Never walk behind a school bus. If you must cross in front of the bus, walk a minimum of 10 feet (5 giant steps) in front of it until you can the other drivers.

School buses are built with safety in mind. They can offer slip resistant stair treads or step covers, anti-slip tape throughout the walkways to prevent falls with extra traction, handrails, and wheelchair ramps. Emergency exit signage is easily visible and at the start of the year, your child’s school bus driver should go over the rules of the bus and safety best practices. Seat belts (or the lack of), can be a common concern to parents. Some buses offer them, but the NHTSA states the best way to provide crash protection to passengers of large school buses, is through a concept called “compartmentalization”. Compartmentalization requires that the interior of large buses protect children without them needing to buckle up. However, it is important to note that small school buses (with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less) must be equipped with lap and/or lap/shoulder belts at all designated seating positions. In order to keep passengers safe in transit and while entering and exiting the buses the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Agency has also created a document called Bus and Passenger Accident Prevention.

Driving to School

Whether you are driving kids or you have a teenage driver taking to the roads this school year, it is important to practice safety. According to the National Safe Routes to School program, more children are hit by cars near schools than at any other location so make sure if you are behind the wheel you are following proper procedures and laws.

Essentials to remember when driving to school:

  • Don’t load or unload children from across the street from the school.
  • If possible try to carpool to reduce the number of vehicles at the school.
  • Schools often have very specific drop-off procedures for the school year; make sure you and your children are aware of the rules.
  • Use your judgment letting your teenage driver drive to school and remind them to be watchful of walkers, bikers, buses and school rules.

Sharing the Road during the School Year

As for us sharing the road this school year with children, make sure to be thoughtful and keep an eye out. By being alert and slowing down on your commute, you could save a life. And remember, school days will undoubtedly bring congestion, so allow yourself plenty of time especially in those first few weeks of school.

No matter what method your child is using to get to school, make sure you take the time to prepare before the school year by discussing proper safety. Whether they are a first-timer or have done this before, a conversation on back to school commuting safety is always worth the time to ensure kids feel comfortable and secure during their commutes.

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