It's the most wonderful time of the year...at least for parents. September is waiting in the wings. This means rush hour will get worse again and you will spend more than you expected to on school supplies and "back to school" items.
It also means that school zones will be full of kids again and extra caution must be taken by everyone. Whether you have a child heading to class with a brand new backpack or you are driving close to a school, here are a few things to keep in mind.
If Your Child Is Walking to School
As much as both sides hate "lectures", some of them are important enough to keep having. If your child will be riding a bike, these suggestions are still applicable. Remind your child to:
- Leave for school with enough time in the morning to arrive at least 10 minutes before the bell. If they are in a rush, they will be less likely to notice things like cars that suddenly make a turn and to run across the crosswalk. You could suggest that your child and their friends could meet early to hang out or catch up together. Remind them that it is better to be late once or twice than to risk being hurt.
- Use the most visible, safest route to and from home – ideally, a public sidewalk. Sometimes it may be tempting to take a shortcut. It is always best to be somewhere in public with a lot of people around, in case they encounter a dangerous situation. Walking with a group of friends is also a great idea.
- If this route is new to your child, practice walking it with them and point out what they need to do when there's traffic. Show them the traffic signs and markings. Encourage them to use the crosswalks. Teach them how to look both ways, even at controlled crosswalks, and to avoid crossing around things that could obstruct drivers' views of them (e.g. parked cars, bushes, etc.)
If You Are Driving Around a School Zone
Even if you have taught your child the traffic rules and how to get to and from school, there may be other kids who perhaps may have forgotten these lessons, or are in a hurry.
- As soon as you near the school zone, look for any school zone signals or instructions. Make yourself aware of your surroundings – cars that could be obscuring your view of little ones, crossing guards with their reflective vests and sign paddles. It's easy to start treating this part of your route as "routine" and drive through it on "autopilot", but children – and often, other drivers – are unpredictable.
- Obey the speed limits.
- Never pass other vehicles when you're in a school zone. Try to avoid making U-turns or changing lanes. The few minutes you may think you save by these measures are insignificant compared to the value of a child's life (or yours).
- Do not text or use your cellular phone (and even if it's hands-free, pay particular attention to your surroundings). Many jurisdictions have laws against "distracted driving" for a reason. It is more difficult to be aware of everything around you and react in time.
- Don't pass the school bus when the lights are flashing or if you see children getting on or off the bus. It is surprisingly easy for a child to make a dash around the bus and not be seen until it's too late. Again, the inconvenience you may experience is much better than the alternative.
- Always obey the crossing guards. As annoying as it may be to be told to stop sometimes, many crossing guards are volunteers whose efforts significantly decrease the potential for accidents in the school zone. By guiding and directing the children, they can prevent most mad dashes across the road or children from straying off the crosswalk and into traffic.
What Can Your Child's School Do to Help?
We're all in this together. If there are measures you think your child's school could be taking to improve safety, make the suggestions – such as having a crossing guard and making sure all obstacles around the crosswalk are removed. Visible signage is also an effective way to grab drivers' attention and to alert them to an upcoming school zone. If it gets dark in the afternoon during the winter where you live, you could also suggest lit crosswalk signs.