By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate
As parents, caregivers, teachers, school administrators, and school transportation safety professionals prepare for the return to school the health and safety of our children is the highest priority.
This school year, back to school preparation for our children looks very different and it’s easy to forget about transportation safety amidst these other thoughts and concerns. But it’s so important that in addition to ensuring children are safe in the classroom, we also dedicate the time to discuss with our kids the safest way for them to get to and from school.
Over the past 50 years, we’ve made school transportation safety a priority. Many of the most pressing back-to-school transportation issues (including speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving, and pedestrian and bicycle safety) are currently items on our Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements. Our MWL contains what we believe to be the safety improvements that can prevent crashes and save lives, and these issues are among our highest priorities in our advocacy work.
The hour before and after school are the most dangers times for students on the roads. In fact, more school-age pedestrians were killed between 7-7:59 a.m. and 3-3:39 p.m. than any other hours of the day.
So, how will your kids get to school this year? Will they take the bus? Do you have a carpool set up with another family? Do they walk or bike to school? Is your teen driving to and from school this year? Regardless of how your child gets there and home, this is a critical time for you, as a parent, to think about ways you can help keep them safe. By talking to your children about steps you can take together this school year to ensure a safe trip to and from school.
Here are a few tips for keeping students safe this school year:
- Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely if they take the school bus instead of traveling by car. If your student can ride the bus, make this your first choice. School buses are the safest vehicle for traveling to- and from- school and school-related activities. If your students school bus is equipped with seat belts ask them to buckle up, every trip, every time.
- If your student will be walking to school, map out the safest route for them 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 and allows you the opportunity to demonstrate safe walking behaviors.
- If you have a student biking to school, be sure they wear a helmet and reflective gear! 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.
- If you’re the parent of a teen driver, talk to them about safe driving behaviors—following posted speed limits, no cell phone use, about always buckling up and getting enough sleep before they get behind the wheel. Consider signing a parent-teen driving contract with your teen driver with clear guidelines for using the car.
We all have a shared responsibility to ensure that all children make it to school and return home safely. Drivers, be on the look out for children in neighborhoods and around schools, and slow down. If you approach a school bus with flashing lights on and stop arm out, STOP! When you’re behind the wheel, give the driving task your full attention, don’t be distracted by your cell phone —hand’s free doesn’t mean risk free— and never drive impaired by alcohol or other drugs, even over-the-counter medication.
For additional tips check out these valuable resources:
School Bus Safety
School Bus Safety from NHTSA
School Bus Safety from American School Bus Council
School Bus Safety Tips from Safe Kids Worldwide
Pedestrian Safety Tips from Safe Kids Worldwide
Teaching Children to Walk Safely as They Grow and Develop from Safe Routes to School
Bicycle Safety from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Bicycle Safety Skills from Safe Routes to School
Safe Vehicles for Teens from IIHS
DriveitHOME from the National Safety Council
Contract for Life from SADD