AgriLife Extension expert: Back-to-school traffic safety a two-way street

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Contact: Bev Kellner, 979-862-1782, bkellner@ag.tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – Families should make traffic safety a priority by discussing the many risks present in each of the different ways children travel to school, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service safety expert.

“Whether it’s riding on a school bus, walking, peddling a bike or using a skateboard or scooter, it’s important children become familiar with potential safety hazards,” said Bev Kellner, AgriLife Extension passenger safety program manager, College Station. “Kids get some safety rules and advice from their bus driver, teachers, school principal and others, but parents and other caregivers are the best and most trusted sources for a child’s safety information. Regularly discuss safety with your children so it becomes top of mind, no matter how they get to school.”

Kellner said children walking to school should use the sidewalk if there is one, but should otherwise walk close to the curb facing oncoming traffic.

Parents and caregivers should take time to teach young people the rules of the road when it comes to back-to-school traffic safety. (Texas A&&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“Parents should practice walking to school with their children and show them where and when to cross streets,” she said. “And children walking to school should always look left, right and then left again to see if cars are coming,” Kellner said. “Don’t run out in front of a parked car and don’t text or talk on the phone or use headphones when walking as these can all be a distraction and keep you from seeing or hearing what’s going on around you.”

Kellner said bike riders should always wear properly sized, secured helmets and wear bright- colored clothing.

“Pay attention to lane markers and ride single file on the right side of the road,” she said. “Come to a complete stop before crossing the street and then walk the bike across the street.

“Obey stop signs and traffic lights when riding a bike and don’t get too close to car doors as these may open suddenly. “Ride near the curb in the same direction as the traffic, and use hand signals to indicate where you’re turning.”

She said the most common cause of vehicle/bicyclist collision is a driver turning left in front of a bicyclist.

“When passing a bicyclist, proceed in the same direction slowly and leave at least 3 feet between your car and the cyclist,” Kellner said. “When turning left and a bicyclist is approaching in the opposite direction, wait for the rider to pass. And if you’re turning right and a bicyclist is approaching from behind on the right, let him or her go through the intersection first.”

Kellner also said motorists should watch for children riding bikes to suddenly turn in front of them without looking or signaling.

“Children can be impulsive, so be extra vigilant around bike riders in school zones and residential neighborhoods,” Kellner said. “Watch for bikes coming from driveways or behind parked cars and be sure to check your side mirrors before you open the car door.”

Kellner said while school buses are usually the safest way for children to travel to and from school, there are still risks when boarding or exiting buses.

“It is important that children wait on the sidewalk and line up away from the street as the bus approaches,” she said. “Do not approach the bus until it makes a complete stop. Buckle up if seat belts are available and stay in place for the entire ride. Use the handrail when exiting the bus. .

“If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, make sure you are at least 10 feet away from the bus and that you can see the driver and the driver can see you. Wait until the driver signals that it is safe to cross and look for oncoming traffic. And stay away from the rear wheels of the bus.”

Kellner also cited additional tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on bus safety as related to other drivers sharing the road.

“Some of the safety advice from NHTSA relative to sharing the road with a school bus is to yield to children and other pedestrians in crosswalks and take extra care in school zones,” she said. “They also warn drivers to never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians and never pass a school bus that’s loading or unloading children.

“Some additional precautions motorists can take include not blocking the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn. In a school zone, stop and yield to pedestrians crossing in the crosswalk or at intersection, and always stop for a school patrol officer or crossing guard.”

Kellner said the area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children, so drivers should be sure to stop far enough back to allow children to safely enter or exit the school bus.

“Allow a greater following distance than if you were behind a car,” she said. “It will give you more time to stop once the yellow lights start flashing. It is illegal in every state to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children.”

Motorists should also be mindful of children in school zones, near playgrounds and parks, and in residential areas, she said.

“Don’t honk or rev your engine to scare a pedestrian, even if you have the right of way,” Kellner said. “Don’t ever pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians and always use extreme caution to avoid hitting a pedestrian — no matter who has the right of way.”

She noted teen drivers typically have more crashes than most other drivers due to inexperience.

“They often struggle with how to handle judging gaps in traffic, driving the right speed for specific road conditions and how to avoid distractions, especially if there are others in the vehicle,” she said. “Teen drivers should be especially aware of their surroundings and should drive cautiously and defensively. Avoid speeding, especially in school zones, and avoid distractions such as using the phone or eating while driving.”

Kellner said motorists can make a big difference by remembering to drive with extra caution, especially in or around school zones.

 “Your slower speed and extra attention may very well save a life,” she said.

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