Category Archives: Series: Back to School Safety

Back-to-School Safety Series: Eyes on the Road, Hands on the Wheel, Minds on What Matters

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division

 Parents and teens, please read this blog together (not while you’re driving!).

Driving fast with a sport carWhen you hear “distracted driving,” you probably immediately think of the endless “don’t text and drive” campaigns across the nation each year. This is not without good reason—texting and driving is certainly one of the deadliest forms of distraction. Reading or responding to a text takes your eyes from the road for 5 seconds. If you’re traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to drive the entire length of a football field.

Today’s teens have grown up with near-constant access to social media. Some teens text and drive, even though they acknowledge it’s dangerous. According to a recent AAA poll, 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway. Modern teens are often inseparable from their phones. It’s hard to think of a scenario in which a teen isn’t pulling out a device to text, take a selfie, or access social media. Most of the time, this is a minor annoyance to those competing for a teen’s attention, but this habit playing out behind the wheel could kill someone.

Distracted driving can be as deadly as driving impaired—the law supports this fact. New laws are being implemented across the nation to curb distracted driving; for example, an Oregon law that went into effect July 1st punishes distracted drivers with consequences akin to those incurred by DUI offenders. And, like many of the other topics we’ve covered in our Back-to-School Safety Series—impairment, drowsy driving, and seat belts—“Eliminate Distractions” is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.

But what many fail to realize is that distracted driving is more harmful for teens than DUI—teens who text and drive are involved in 6 times more car accidents than their drunk‑driving counterparts, making it statistically even more dangerous to drive distracted than to drink and drive (and that’s saying something, considering the common knowledge that drinking and driving is an often fatal, horrible idea). Distracted driving kills more teens than drunk driving. A 20-year-old’s reaction time while talking on a cell phone is equal to the reaction time of 70-year-old. Texting while driving increases crash risk 23 times over for drivers of all ages. Texting while driving now accounts for 1.6 million crashes a year—that’s 25% of all car crashes. It’s a bigger issue than a few typed words on a little cell phone screen would seem.

As we mentioned in our introductory blog, if children grow up watching their parents drive distracted without major incident, they’ll see the danger as slight and the behavior as acceptable. But what your children don’t know is that whether it’s the first time or the fiftieth, at any moment the statistics can catch up to you. The good news is that 62 percent of teens say they don’t text and drive when their parents remind them not to—so, starting now, remind your kids about the dangers of distracted driving, and then practice what you preach.

Take a moment now and talk about it. Make a family rule on distraction and hold each other accountable.

Back-to-School Safety Series: Zero Tolerance Starts at Home

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

As teen drivers head back to school—and all the daily exposure to peer influence that implies—remember that you have influence, too. That’s especially important when the subject is impaired driving.

You already know that driving impaired is dangerous, but underage drinking and driving is especially deadly. In the United States, 19% of drivers age 15 to 20 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of at least 0.08%.

Chart of effects of BAC levels from .01 to .10Impairment begins with the first drink or the moment a mind- or mood-altering substance is ingested, inhaled, or injected. Teenagers drive under the influence of drugs other than alcohol in astonishing numbers; among the 62.6% of students nationwide who drove during the 30 days before a 2017 survey, 5.5% had driven a car or other vehicle one or more times when they had been drinking alcohol, and 16.5% had ridden one or more times in a vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking. Another survey showed that 19-year-old drivers drive under the influence of drugs at the staggering rate of 16%.

It’s important to point out that a broad range of drugs can be impairing. Illicit, prescribed, and over-the-counter drugs can all impair a driver. Whether it’s an allergy medication from the drug store or a prescription from a doctor, if the warning label reads, “do not operate heavy machinery,” that includes a car; driving should be avoided until the side effects pass.

Impairment is...

As a group, teenagers are at higher risk of experimenting with drugs or alcohol than adults. Teens’ brains are still developing and they’re less able to control their impulses than adults. It’s easy to see how teens can feel fearless in the face of tragedies they assume will “never happen to them”—until they do. The threat of injury from impaired driving crashes shouldn’t be the only deterrent. Consuming any alcohol at all under the age of 21 is illegal. All states have zero-tolerance laws for drivers under 21, meaning that driving with any or a very low BAC comes with great consequence. Teens who drive impaired can face DUI “school,” a lifelong conviction on their arrest record, and even jail time. And as more states begin to legalize marijuana, it’s a good time to remind teens that driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is illegal and, more importantly, can be deadly.

End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment in Transportation is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements, and it applies to drivers of all ages. But young drivers (ages 16­­–20) are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a BAC of .08% than when they have not been drinking. Although the number of underage impaired driving crashes has decreased over the past decade, in 2016, alcohol was still a factor in 20 percent of fatal crashes involving teens.

For teenagers, the world is small, and nebulous concepts like dying in a car crash are more easily heard than taken to heart. Talk to your teen about the dangers of impaired driving—share with them a story of someone in your community who was killed or injured as the result of a drunk or drugged driver. Make clear to your teen that a poor choice, such as driving impaired, can negatively affect the rest of their life; for example, even if no one is hurt in an impaired-driving incident, a DUI, DWI, or DUID on your teen’s record can disqualify him or her from getting certain jobs as an adult.

Maybe most importantly: lead by example. Make it a household rule that driving impaired by any substance is unacceptable, and hold yourself to that rule. Choose to drink or drive, but not both. At the same time, assure your teen that if he or she does slip up and drink or do drugs, they can—and should—always call you or another trusted adult for a ride home. There may be a consequence to their choice, but it will never be as severe as what impaired driving could bring.

Be aware of the influences your teen faces at school every day, and counteract any negative ones with your own. Set the standard in your home and prep your teen up for success as the pressures of the school year go into full swing.

Back-to-School Safety: Wake Up to Drowsy Driving

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

Drowsy driving isn’t just a teen driver problem—it’s an every driver problem. However, a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that young drivers are at the greatest risk of being involved in a fatal drowsy driving crash.

From early sports practices and school start times to the demands of classwork, homework, and after-school activities, school days leave little time for sleep. It’s no surprise teens are skipping sleep to keep up—how else would they have time to balance extracurriculars, schoolwork, classroom hours, and socializing?

Getting behind the wheel a bit drowsy is probably part of your child’s daily routine, and you’ve likely accepted it as an occupational hazard of the ever-increasing to-do list your high schooler faces. What you may not know is that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as alcohol‑impaired driving. For example, on March 20, 2016, four teens were traveling home from a weekend trip to South Padre Island, Texas. About 1:57 pm, the driver crossed the center median, lost control of the car, entered the opposing lanes of traffic, and collided with a tractor trailer.

The driver was seriously injured and her three passengers died. In the 24 hours before the crash, the driver had a window of only about 5 hours to sleep. The crash also happened at a time of day when most people commonly experience a dip in alertness and performance; in fact, the three passengers in the car were all either asleep or dozing at the time of the crash. We determined that that the driver’s loss of control was due to inattention resulting from her fatigue.

Do your best to ensure that your teen gets the right amount of sleep each night. For example, discourage your teen from using a cell phone late at night or during the night; these inhibit falling asleep and affect sleep quality. Also, limit driving time, especially between the hours of midnight and 5 am, when the body is accustomed to sleeping—this is the period of time in which the greatest number of drowsy driving crashes occur. For more ideas on ensuring your teen gets the right amount of sleep to stay alert behind the wheel, see our safety alert, Drowsy Driving Among Young Drivers.

As with all road safety lessons, it’s beneficial to lead by example and avoid driving while you’re tired. However, make sure your teen understands that adults generally need less sleep than teenagers, who are still growing and developing. While you may feel rested after 7 hours of sleep, teens need between 8 and 10 hours each night to avoid suffering the effects of fatigue. Keep in mind that your teen may have no idea how fatigued he or she is. The statement, “I only slept 4 hours last night, but I feel fine to drive,” should sound like a warning siren, not a reassurance. We are all notoriously bad judges of our own fatigue.

Work with your teens to help them manage their time so they’re getting the sleep they need. During the summer, teens’ sleep schedules often become irregular, so as they begin to plan their upcoming school schedules and enjoy their final weeks of summer vacation, teens should make sure sleep and relaxation find a prominent place on their priority list. Make sure your children know it’s not only okay, but also biologically necessary to sleep. And be aware that it’s not only acute sleep loss but also chronic sleep debt that can precede a drowsy driving crash. Losing a little sleep every night for a long time is dangerous for all drivers, but in young drivers, “minor” sleep losses over multiple nights can add up when combined with their bodies’ greater need for sleep.

Teen drivers have a lot on their plates: social life, after-school work and activities, the school day itself, homework . . . the list goes on. Older teens preparing for college may also be consumed by scholarship and college applications and test preparation, and overwhelmed by academic pressure. By encouraging youth to stay out of sleep debt and away from acute sleep deprivation, we can guarantee safer and more alert young drivers behind the wheel.

Back-to-School Safety: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Tips

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

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.

Walking

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.

PedBikeBlogGraphic.jpg

Bicycling

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.

More resources:

Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian Safety Tips from SafeKids Worldwide

Consejos de Seguridad para los peatones from SafeKids Worldwide

Walking Safely from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Bicycle Safety

Bike Safety Tips from SafeKids Worldwide

Consejos de seguridad para ir en bicicleta from SafeKids Worldwide

Bicycle Safety from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Back-to-School Safety: Why the School Bus is the Safest Choice

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

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.

Back-to-School Safety Series: A Child’s Best Teacher

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.