Back-to-School Driving Basics

Back-to-School Driving Basics

With kids heading back to school across the country, drivers should remain vigilant particularly around school start and stop times. A refresher course on back-to-school road rules will help you do your part to keep school-age children safe.

For many, back-to-school means shopping for backpacks and school supplies. For others, it means bracing for increased traffic near school grounds. But the end of summer and beginning of the school year also means more children, in larger groups, near busy streets. That means traffic risks involving children increase and drivers need to be more vigilant.

According to a study from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), from 2006 to 2015, there were 1,172 fatal school-transportation-related crashes, resulting in 102 student fatalities. Though school-transportation-related crashes consisted of just 0.4% of fatal motor vehicle crashes, they are preventable if drivers take the proper precautions around school zones.

Driving Around School Buses

School buses are 70 times more likely to transport students to school safely than cars, according to NHTSA. Their designs are closely regulated in accordance to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and have various safety features such as flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors, stop sign arms, and energy-absorbing seat backs.

Despite these safety measures, it is still the responsibility of nearby drivers to learn how to properly share the road with school buses. NHTSA has provided drivers with some tips to navigate safely around buses:

  • Slow down. Children entering or exiting a bus may walk out into the street. Driving slowly increases awareness of your surroundings and gives yourself time to stop if a child walks in front of your vehicle.
  • Be aware of yellow flashing lights. Yellow flashing lights are a warning to motorists that a school bus is about to stop to load and unload children. If you see a school bus with these lights on, be prepared to stop. Do not try to “beat” the bus by speeding past it.
  • Watch for red flashing lights and extended arm stop signs. When the school bus is showing these signals, they indicate that children are getting on or off the bus. According to federal law, all drivers must stop and wait until the flashing lights stop and the stop sign is retracted.
  • Keep at least 10 feet of distance between your vehicle and a school bus at all times. The 10 feet around a school bus represent the most dangerous zone for children. Leave enough space for children to safely board and leave the bus.

Pedestrian Safety in School Zones

Buses are just one way students get to school. Some students live close enough to their school that they may walk to class. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), children ages 4 to 7 walking to school are at the highest risk of losing their lives in a vehicle-related accident. Here’s what drivers can do to make the roads safer for children walking to and from school:

  • Stay behind the crosswalk when stopped at an intersection. Remain behind the line, even when trying to make a turn. Putting your vehicle in the crosswalk forces pedestrians to walk around your car, possibly putting them in the street and in the path of oncoming traffic.
  • Pay attention to traffic signs near school zones. Some signs in school zones have blinking lights, which indicate that vehicles must yield to pedestrians that are about to cross the street.
  • Keep speed limits in mind. Speed limits are lower when children are present around school areas. Slow down when you see children near schools, playgrounds, parks, and residential areas.
  • Watch for crossing guards and patrol officers. Their job is to get children to and from school safely, and when they’re on duty, it often means children are around.

Dropping Children Off

To ensure the safety of children, there are a handful of drop-off procedures drivers bringing children to or from school should follow:

  • Don’t double park. Even if you do so momentarily to drop off children, it diminishes drivers’ ability to see children, and puts children being dropped off closer to traffic.
  • Load and unload children at school. Pickups and drop-offs across the street or around a corner put children at greater risk of being involved in an accident.
  • Carpool whenever possible to reduce the amount of vehicles and traffic around school zones.

Children are the most vulnerable members of our communities, so it’s important to prioritize their safety, especially around schools. With these back-to-school tips, you can do your part to help children start their school year safely.

Drive Safely!

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