With mid-Michigan schools back in session, area motorists must take extra vigilance due to the increased number of children pedestrians, children on bicycles and school buses sharing the road.
With more than 1.5 million children across Michigan back in school this month – and 10% of those children typically walking or biking to their classes – AAA Michigan is warning drivers to take additional care before and after school hours with its annual School’s Open – Drive Carefully awareness campaign.
“The start of the school year is a particularly challenging time for parents because of new routines and increased traffic,” said Adrienne Woodland, spokesperson for the nonprofit federation of motor clubs. “We encourage anyone taking children to school, and all drivers, to establish habits that help them stay focused on the task of driving.”
Launched in 1946, the awareness campaign was created as a way to help reduce child pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Several recommendations from AAA regarding ways drivers can help to keep kids safe include:
- 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. And children can be quick, crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Some ways to reduce risk include not using your cellphone or eating while driving and putting aside electronic distractions.
- 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 3 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 1 in 4 fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
In addition, the National Safety Council offers several reminders for road warriors to observe when sharing pavement space with school buses.
- Never pass a bus from behind – or from either direction if you’re on an undivided road – if it is stopped to load or unload children.
- If the yellow or red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, traffic must stop.
- The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to allow students space to safely enter and exit the bus.
- Be alert; children often are unpredictable. They tend to ignore hazards and take risks.