It’s an exciting week for children throughout Windham County with the start of another school year. They’re eager to meet up with friends they haven’t seen all summer and about the prospect of advancing to a higher grade. Many of them carefully selected their first-day outfits at least a week in advance and have closely examined every pocket and zipper of their new backpacks.
The start of another school year also means the return of school buses on the road and children skipping along sidewalks as they go to and from the school campus. Drivers need to be more vigilant now to the unpredictable nature of children and remember some basic safety rules as they drive around town during the morning and afternoon hours.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related crashes are pedestrians, four to seven years old, who are hit by the bus or by motorists illegally passing a stopped school bus. All 50 states have a law making it illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children. This includes traffic in both directions on undivided roadways.
The National Safety Council offers several tips for motors to keep in mind while buses are on the road and while driving near school zones and bus stops. For example, the area 10 feet around a school bus is where children are in the most danger of being hit. The NSC recommends
Always be on alert for children darting out from a bus or between parked cars. Children walking to or from their bus are usually very comfortable with their surroundings. This makes them more likely to take risks, ignore hazards or fail to look both ways when crossing the street.
Allow extra time while buses are one the road so you don’t feel rushed into making a mistake. If possible, avoid bus routes during pick-up and drop-off times.
For children who walk to school, drivers should not block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn. And always stop when directed by a school patrol sign or designated crossing guard.
Parents should discuss school bus and pedestrian safety with their children, and they also should take extra precautions themselves when driving their children to school. Check with the school to learn about child safety procedures and routines.
Remember to watch out for other children, not just your own. Motorists are so worried about their own child’s safety and about being on-time for school and work, that they commit safety infractions afterward (like passing a school bus with its lights flashing in the school parking lot). A story on child safety from About.com says school officials report double-parking, speeding through school zones, not being on the lookout for children darting between cars or careening off their bicycles, or even doing a U-turn on a two-way street to turn the car into the direction they want to go.
One of the biggest complaints by school officials is that parents find a reason to be an exception to the rule, according to the article. If the curb says "No stopping, standing or parking at any time," that means for everyone.
Finally, refrain from using your cell phone, palm or any other distraction while around school zones. This common-sense advice really applies whenever a motorist is behind the wheel, but especially when driving around young children and their perhaps spontaneous actions.
Following these basic tips will ensure a safe school year for all of Windham County’s students. The last thing we want is to report on the tragic death of a child from an accident that could have been avoided.