AAA Northeast is reminding students and drivers to use caution as schools reopen for the 2020-2021 year. An increase in traffic as well as an increase in child pedestrians and cyclists require patience, defensive driving skills, and mindfulness for all roadway users. School transportation guidelines have changed as recommendations from the CDC include social distancing on school buses which reduces the number of riders.
Local motorists must be vigilant, especially in the hours before and after school and follow the tips below:
- Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
- Come to a complete stop. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
- Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. Children can be quick, crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by not using your cell phone.
- Reverse responsibly. Every vehicle has blind spots. Check for children on the sidewalk, in the driveway and around your vehicle before slowly backing up. Teach your children to never play in, under or around vehicles.
- Watch for bicycles. Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist. If your child rides a bicycle to school, require that he or she wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet on every ride.
- Talk to your teen. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and nearly one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
To support students who will be walking to school, communities can consider organizing or participating in a walking school bus program in neighborhoods that have infrastructure conducive to pedestrian traffic. Adults or older students trained in pedestrian safety, such as AAA School Safety Patrollers, can lead groups of younger students to and from school each day. Students walk and cross streets together and “bus stops” are planned in advance to include all students who wish to participate.
“Parents and schools looking to start a walking school bus program in their neighborhood should start by conducting a walkability audit in their neighborhood by walking the route to the school from the starting point. This exercise rates the infrastructure for sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic calming devices and safety concerns regarding motor vehicle traffic,” said Diana Gugliotta, Senior Manager of Public Affairs at AAA Northeast. AAA recommends using the Safe Routes Audit Toolkit to get started. This and other resources for educators are available at www.AAA.com/Community . Schools interested in beginning a safety patrol program at their school should visit www.AAA.com/safetypatrol to register and access training resources; materials are furnished at no cost to the school.