If you’re a parent of schoolchildren like me, you’re likely starting to hunt for deals in the school supply aisle of Target and taking stock of your kids’ closets (new shoes, again?). One thing that’s easily overlooked in back-to-school prep is determining or reviewing how your child will get safely to and from school. Whether you will drive your child to school or he or she will ride the school bus, take public transportation, walk, or bicycle, safety should always be the priority. This installment of our back-to-school blog series will review pedestrian and bicycle safety tips to get you ready to send your kids back safely.
Will your child walk to and from school? Children should walk with an adult or an older sibling until they are at least 10 years old. Map out the safest route for your child before school is back in session and practice it a few times. This will help your child become familiar with the route, including any crosswalks or intersections they may need to negotiate. If possible, select a route with sidewalks, and try to avoid busy roads with high levels of traffic. Demonstrate safe walking behaviors by finding marked crosswalks or other designated crossing areas and stopping at any curbs to look LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT before crossing the street. Check out the Safe Routes to School resource, Teaching Children to Walk Safely as They Grow and Develop, to help you teach your children safe walking behaviors.
Your child is going to school to develop his or her brain; be sure to protect that brain with a helmet! Helmets are the most important piece of safety equipment for bicycle riders. Just as with walking, it’s also important to help your child select the safest bicycle route before starting the school year. This guide of bicycle skills a child should have before riding to school from Safe Routes to School can help you prepare your child for bicycling safely to and from school.
Safety Education is Continuous!
Whether your child is entering kindergarten or senior year, pedestrian and bicycle safety can always be reviewed, practiced, and reinforced to ensure safe road behaviors continue throughout your child’s life.
I work in transportation safety every day, but every morning before I leave the house, I make sure my children get to school safely. For my daughter, that means making sure she gets to the school bus on time.
Like many parents, I send my daughter to school on a bus that is not equipped with seat belts, because I know that even without seat belts, it’s still the safest way for her to get to and from school. In fact, students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking the school bus than when traveling by car, even if the bus doesn’t have seat belts.
That being said, school buses are even safer with lap/shoulder belts, especially because lap/shoulder belts can protect your child from side-to-side movement during a rollover crash. At the NTSB, we believe that your child needs that added protection. In May, we recommended that states only purchase new school buses that are equipped with lap/shoulder belts for all passenger seating positions. We also recommended collision avoidance systems and automatic emergency braking on newly manufactured school buses, to further enhance school bus safety in the future.
Check out our school bus safety video featuring NTSB’s Dr. Kris Poland, who explains compartmentalization, talks about a few of our crash investigations, and discusses the added safety benefit of lap/shoulder belts in school buses.
Before setting out on your journey to the bus stop, refresh your knowledge of safe school bus practices, and then talk about safety with your children. Remind your kids to sit facing forward in their seat when the vehicle is in motion, to buckle up if the bus is equipped with seat belts, and to be aware of traffic on the roads when it’s time to step on or off. Last but not least, if you or your child have concerns about a bus driver’s behavior, by all means, report it to the school principal or bus company.
Over the next few weeks, nearly 50 million children will head back to school; more than 20 million of them will ride on a school bus. Although there’s much to be done to make school bus transportation even safer, it’s still the safest way to get to and from school. When possible, make the school bus the preferred method of transportation for your kids this school year.
Last week, as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Skies for Africa program, I led a team of NTSB investigators and communications specialists to South Africa to share lessons we’ve learned from our accident investigations. The Safe Skies for Africa program, created 20 years ago, aims to improve the safety and security of aviation on the continent. Our team shared some NTSB strategies with our international counterparts to help them achieve similar outcomes in their region.
From my perspective, the Safe Skies program is working. After spending about 20 years in Africa participating in accident investigations, conducting workshops, helping improve accident investigation programs, and training investigators, I’ve seen increased commercial air service between the United States and Africa (for example, there are now US commercial flights to Africa, which wasn’t the case earlier in my career), improved investigation quality, and a reduced rate of accidents involving commercial aircraft.
On this trip, the NTSB team shared a variety of lessons learned from different disciplines. Dennis Hogenson, Western Pacific Region Deputy Regional Chief for Aviation Safety, pointed out that, like Africa, the United States is seeing a high incidence of general aviation (GA) crashes. He told his audience that, while airline accidents have become rare, GA accidents account for most aviation fatalities in the United States. We investigate about 1,500 GA accidents each year; those involving loss of control in flight still result in more than 100 fatalities annually. In many of our GA accident investigations, we’ve discovered that pilots didn’t have the adequate knowledge, skills, or recurrent training to fly safely, particularly in questionable weather conditions, and their inability to appropriately recover from stalls often resulted in deadly accidents. Dennis encouraged his African counterparts to initiate more training and increase awareness of technology, such as angle-of-attack indicators, that can help prevent these tragedies.
Bill Bramble, a human factors investigator, outlined our investigation process and explained how we examine all factors—machine, human, and environment—to understand an accident and make recommendations to prevent it from happening again. Bill highlighted several accidents we investigated in which human factors played a role. But even when a probable cause statement focuses on factors not normally associated with human performance, it’s impossible to totally remove humans from the accident chain.
“Humans designed it, built it, operated it, maintained it, managed it, and regulated it. Human factors are always involved in complex system failures,” Bramble said.
To prevent accidents and improve the safety of air travel in Africa, it’s important that operating aircraft are airworthy, meaning that all structure, systems, and engines are intact and maintained in accordance with the regulations. To emphasize this point, NTSB aerospace engineer, Clint Crookshanks presented a series of case studies discussing airworthiness issues and offered guidance on ways to classify damage to aircraft.
Chihoon “Chich” Shin, an NTSB aerospace engineer, addressed helicopter safety. The number of helicopter operations (emergency medical services, tourist, and law enforcement support) in Africa is increasing, and so is the number of helicopter accidents. Chich presented case studies and highlighted some important safety issues from an engineering perspective.
“The metal doesn’t lie,” Shin said. He called for increased awareness of the safety issues affecting helicopter safety and encouraged action from key stakeholders, such as regulatory agencies and helicopter manufacturers and operators, to help reduce accidents and fatalities. He also touted the importance of crash-resistant recording devices to help investigators determine what happened in a crash and work to prevent it from happening again.
NTSB communications staff emphasized another side of our work in transportation safety. Stephanie Matonek, a transportation disaster assistance specialist, discussed the importance of planning for family assistance after an accident occurs.
“Having a family assistance plan in place, identifying your family assistance partners, and addressing the fundamental concerns for families and survivors that cross all cultures is not only a crucial step but the right thing to do,” she said.
Nicholas Worrell, Chief of the Office of Safety Advocacy, addressed messaging, encouraging attendees to go beyond investigations to teach their safety lessons effectively. He encouraged investigators to raise awareness of the safety issues they uncover to spur action on their recommendations.
Aviation is a global business. Our mission is to make transportation safer the world over by conducting independent accident investigations and advocating for safety improvements. With outreach activities like the one we just completed in Africa, we hope to make aviation safer, not only in Africa, but throughout the world. After all, transportation safety is a global challenge. When safety wins, we all win.
By Paul Sledzik, Director, NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications
Labor Day marks the end of the 100 Deadliest Days of summer. Like the summer heat, the frequency of traffic crashes involving teens will decline. Although the number of people killed in crashes involving teens spikes an estimated 14% from Memorial Day to Labor Day, that sobering statistic shouldn’t overshadow the fact that traffic crashes are a leading cause of death for all teens, all year long.
Whether it’s July or February, pervasive issues like fatigue and distraction compromise the safety of not just our roads but of our sidewalks, as well. As you prepare to send your children back to school, make sure the first lesson they get is a transportation safety conversation with you. And starting now, review what you show your children every day, by your own actions.
Children going back to school will undoubtedly receive some transportation safety tips during their school hours. Younger kids will be told to look both ways before crossing the street and, before they’ve ever touched a steering wheel, teens will be taught that drunk driving kills. Students may spin around with their heads on baseball bats, then try to walk a straight line in health class to demonstrate the dangers of being impaired. They might see videos of families who describe the tremendous pain that follows the loss of a loved one in a preventable traffic crash.
The bulk of your children’s transportation safety training, however, will fall to parents and role models outside the classroom; those who can model real-world examples of safe behavior. Unfortunately, many adults fail to consider the impact their own behavior has on the children around them. Children will adopt both the safe and the unsafe behaviors their parents and other adults model.
If your children grow up watching you drive distracted without major incident, they’ll see this as an acceptable, safe way to behave. If they see you ignore a crosswalk and instead cross in the middle of the street, why wouldn’t they cut the same corners? The connection between your behavior and your children’s starts the moment you secure them in a car seat and continues until (and beyond) the day they’re the ones buckling up behind the wheel. Fifteen minutes of warnings in a driver’s ed class and a rushed “Look both ways!” cannot counteract 15 or 16 years of watching and internalizing the silent message of a safety practice ignored. What you do is at least as important as what you say. Children’s ability to spot hypocrisy is innate; they’ll discount any message that the messenger themselves doesn’t practice.
So, aside from modeling safe behaviors, how can you, as a parent or a role model, help the children in your life practice transportation safety? This blog is the first in our Back-to-School Safety series, which is intended to help you guide your loved ones toward safe transportation practices as they commute to and from school. This month, we’ll provide resources to help parents, role models, and children spot and overcome the challenges of a safe commute, whether they’re passengers, pedestrians, or drivers.
For now, take the initiative to buckle up, put your phone away, obey the speed limit, and use crosswalks, and stay tuned to the next several blogs to learn how to make children safer as they head back to school.