By Leah Walton
I’ve worked in the traffic safety arena for more than 10 years. I know the rules of the road, I know the traffic statistics, and I know the safest mode of transportation.
But what I don’t know yet is how I will feel when I send my first child to kindergarten. The first day of school is fast approaching, and I admit I’m getting emotional about it. Will my son be safe and happy in this new environment? Will he make friends? Is he ready for kindergarten? Where did the time go?
One thing we should also ask ourselves: how will our children get to and from school and what is the best way of getting there?
The best way to get to and from school varies from family to family, and sometimes even student to student. We must take into consideration all the options and determine the safest way to transport our children.
Students can travel by school bus, family vehicle, public transportation, bicycle, or walking. Regardless of the way they get there and back, we must teach them – and demonstrate for them – the safest practices and behaviors.
Will your child ride the school bus? It should be your first choice if it is an option for your family. Statistically, the school bus is the safest form of transportation on America’s roadways. Before your child steps on the school bus, talk to them about how to ride the bus safely. Remind them to wait at the bus stop until the bus comes to a complete stop and the driver signals that it’s ok for them to get on. Once on the bus, they should sit quietly in their seat facing forward, buckle their seat belts if the school bus has them, and hold the handrail when getting on or off the bus.
Will your child walk or bike to school? That’s an excellent way to reach the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommended 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity! It is recommended that children under the age of 10 walk with an adult or an older, responsible sibling. Talk to your children about walking safely, using crosswalks and sidewalks, and walk the route with them before school starts to practice being a safe pedestrian. If they ride their bike, make sure they wear their helmet – a helmet is the best protection against head and brain injury. Review bicycle safety tips and practice the ride with them too, to ensure they are safe and ready.
Will your child ride with you or drive themselves to school? It is important to note that more students are killed while riding or driving in a passenger vehicle than any other mode of transportation. If this is your family’s only or best option, make sure everyone is as safe as possible in the family vehicle. Make sure everyone is in the right type of seat for their size, has their seat belt fastened, and is free of distractions (if driving)
Back to school safety isn’t just an important consideration for parents and caregivers of schoolchildren – back to school safety should be a priority for all community members. Today, the NTSB hosted a press event that featured the “Look Out for Each Other” campaign of Montgomery County, Maryland, which reinforces the sentiment that traffic safety involves everyone. We must all work together to make sure everyone reaches their destination safely – whether we are on our way to work, out for an evening with friends, or headed off to the first day of school.
Back to school time comes with many mixed emotions – especially for me now. But, with proper planning, fears around how our children will get to and from school should not be among them.
Leah Walton is a Safety Advocate for NTSB