Back to school: Child pedestrian safety

Another school year has begun, which means that school busses and school children will be adding to the many obstacles drivers encounter on the roads. According to the August 2009 issue of Pediatrics, each year approximately 900 children are killed in pedestrian crashes.

back to school safety

Another 51,000 pedestrian children are injured, and 5,300 of them are hospitalized as a result. As kids transition back to in-person schooling, you’ll see more of them in your neighborhood getting on the bus or walking to the neighborhood school.

Over time, fewer children have been walking or biking to school. In 1969, 48% of children ages 5-14 walked or biked to school. In 2009, that number dropped to 13%. The most popular reasons cited for not having children walk to school were distance and traffic concerns. This decrease helps keep children safe, but it also makes drivers less likely to anticipate the children on the road.

What should parents of children who walk to school consider?

If your child is walking to school, consider walking with them or forming a neighborhood group with other families. Adults can rotate to keep an eye on everybody, and older children can assist younger ones. These groups are sometimes known as “walking school buses,” and can be organized by the school itself or by neighbors. These larger groups are more visible, and create an opportunity for teaching safe pedestrian practices.

If your child wants to walk to school by themselves, consider their age, maturity, and responsibility. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends walking children to school until they turn ten, as by that age children demonstrated “more awareness of traffic and better observed pedestrian behavior.” Make traffic safety a regular discussion around your home, and practice the route with your children before the school year starts.

Also make sure your children are dressed appropriately for the walk. This means taking into account not only weather, but also visibility. If the route your child takes is not well lit or their walk occurs while it’s dark outside, ensure they’re wearing bright colors or reflective gear so they can be easily seen by drivers.

kids in front of a school bus

What if I drive near a school?

If you live near a school or often see school buses as you drive, there are many important rules for drivers to follow:

  • Know when you need to stop for a school bus. Virginia law says that a driver must stop “when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children, the elderly, or mentally or physically handicapped persons.”
  • The driver must remain “stopped until all the persons are clear of the highway, private road or school driveway and the bus is put in motion.”
  • However, the driver is free to continue on their way if the school bus is stopped on the other side of a divided highway, an access road, or a driveway if the other roadway, access road, or driveway is separated from the roadway on which he is driving by a physical barrier or an unpaved area, such as a grassy median strip.
  • In addition, “the driver of a vehicle also need not stop when approaching a school bus which is loading or discharging passengers from or onto property immediately adjacent to a school if the driver is directed by a law-enforcement officer or other duly-authorized uniformed school crossing guard to pass the school bus.”
  • Failure to stop for a school bus can result in a charge of reckless driving, with penalties of a fine of up to $2,500.00 and/or confinement in jail for up to twelve months. More importantly, passing a school bus creates an extreme hazard to the children on the bus. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. If you know you’re likely to encounter a school bus along your planned route, depart a few minutes early to allow for the bus’s stops.

Being mindful of children

  • Be alert for children doing the unexpected. Children are likely to run from between vehicles, or to dart across the street. Their small size means that not only can they be hard to spot, but also that they have a hard time seeing your vehicle. The peripheral vision of children is not as well-developed as that of adults, which can make it hard for them to see oncoming vehicles.
  • Children lack an adult’s experience in gauging speed and distance, and might jump out in front of a vehicle because they believe they have more time to cross the street than they do.
  • Keeping your vehicle at a slow speed will help you react quickly if necessary. Develop the habit of scanning the area to be alert for children in the vicinity.
  • Be especially cautious when operating the vehicle in reverse, such as when exiting a driveway.
  • When in a school zone, obey all speed limits.
  • Watch for crossing guards and follow their directions.
  • Do not attempt to pass vehicles, change travel lanes, or make u-turns in school zones.
  • Avoid using your cell phone, adjusting the vehicle temperature, or changing the radio station while in a school zone.

Back to school can be an exciting time for children and their families. It’s up to all of us to make sure everybody stays safe so they can be ready to learn!

If you or a loved one have been injured in a pedestrian accident through no fault of your own, the experienced attorneys at Allen & Allen are here to help. Call today for a free consultation at 866-388-1307.