If the Halloween decorations already appearing in stores are any indication, fall is already in the air. With fall comes back-to-school, a season that brings excitement for some and dread for others. As the seasons change and the lightness of summer transitions into the solemnity of fall, it is a good time to check-in with your safety practices. Below we outline some important tips as you get your family ready to head back to the classroom.
Use Best Practices for Walking
If you are walking your child to school, or if they are walking by themselves to school, following a few simple tips can reduce risk and keep them as safe as possible. For example, if students are coming home late from an event or sports practice and it is already dark, invest in a blinker or other reflective materials so that cars can see them crossing the street. At any given time, avoid being on your phone so that you can remain completely aware of your surroundings. If there is no designated sidewalk, pedestrians should always walk facing traffic so that they can see oncoming cars and oncoming traffic can see them. While waiting to cross the street or to board a bus, always stand a few feet away from the curb. Last, while pedestrians do typically have the right of way, pedestrians should continue to exert caution and not assume cars will yield to them.
Follow the Rules for Drop-Off
The streets around a school are often an intricate and carefully thought out system–one designed with good reason. School drop-off zones exist to prioritize safety and maximize efficiency, which is why you should follow the pattern they lay out. Using the designated lanes for drop-off helps avoid traffic jams and unpredictable driving, both of which increase the risk of an accident. Similarly, double-parking can reduce visibility for both drivers and pedestrians. In addition, dropping kids off across the street from school–unless clearly indicated as an option–can put them at risk for being involved in an accident. Keep an eye out for crossing guards or other school officials directing traffic and heed their instructions to keep yourself and others safe.
School zone speed limits exist for a reason. Usually they are marked by signage and flashing lights, so be aware of when to limit your speed. At school drop off times, there is often increased traffic in the area and slowing down can help limit risk around accidents, both for other cars and pedestrians. Try to anticipate the slowed speed limit to avoid having to come to an abrupt stop as you enter the zone.
Be Careful with School Buses
When sharing the road with school buses, keep an eye on their lights. Yellow lights will begin flashing as the bus prepares to make a stop, and the red lights will illuminate once the bus is making its stop. A stop sign may also extend from the bus when it comes to a stop. If the red lights are on and/or the stop sign is extended, all traffic must come to a stop, in both directions. However, if there is a median or barrier separating the two directions of traffic, traffic going in the opposite direction may proceed. Outside of this specific case, it is illegal to pass a school bus and violating that law comes not only with a heavy fine but with the increased risk for children boarding and exiting the bus. The National Safety Council recommends allowing a ten-foot radius around the school bus, as children can be unpredictable and unaware when exiting and entering.
Take Inventory & Review Protocols
If you’re using your personal car to drive students to school, or if you are letting a teen use a car, make sure you’ve had it recently checked for safety (brakes, transmissions, etc) and that it is in its best possible working order. For younger kids, make sure car seats are correctly sized. Also review that insurance policies are up-to-date and that you have emergency supplies in your car.
Aside from the physical safety of navigating school zones, you should also check-in as a family about emergency plans. For example, how does a child know if you’ve sent someone else to pick them up? Create a secret password that you will only share with people you have sent to pick up your child. Update emergency contact information with the school if anything has changed, and make sure you also have a reliable phone number where you can be reached if there is an emergency at school during the day. Thinking through worst-case scenarios and creating contingency plans can help reduce confusion and miscommunication should the unthinkable happen.