Mark started second grade last week. He also moved to a new school close to his house. Before school started, Mark and his parents had a long talk about how he was going to get there. They finally decided that he was old enough, and careful enough, to walk to school with another friend.
This was a hard decision for Mark's parents to reach, because one of their jobs as Mom and Dad is to protect him from danger. And walking to school along a suburban roadway can be dangerous.
If you think your parents are worrywarts because they don't want you to walk to school without an adult, think about these facts: Each year, thousands of young people die because of accidents -- particularly accidents involving cars. Many of these accidents and injuries happen to kids traveling inside cars; many others happen to kids walking or riding their bikes on the street.
While it's not very pleasant to think about these facts, it's very important to be aware of them. Staying safe on the street is a serious business. So when your parents tell you for the ten-thousandth time to look both ways before crossing at an intersection, don't get annoyed. Be glad that your parents care enough about you to warn you about danger.
There are things you can do to protect yourself and your friends. Here are some suggestions. You can probably think of other ideas yourself. If you can, talk them over with your parents and teachers. Everyone needs to cooperate in order to avoid accidents.
If you're a pedestrian -- a person walking on foot -- you need to be alert all the time. Traffic laws were designed to protect you -- but unfortunately, drivers don't always obey them. Many drivers speed, even when they're driving in neighborhoods where kids walk to school.
Mark knows that he should keep a close eye out for people who are driving too fast, and avoid crossing the street when those cars are passing. He also knows that the safest place to cross is at an intersection, in a crosswalk. Even in his quiet neighborhood, Mark and his friend observe this rule. They never cross in the middle of the block.
The safest way to cross is if there's a safety patrol or crossing guard.
If you get a ride to school, you need to be careful, too. The number one rule when you're riding in a car is to wear your seatbelt. That rule is always in effect -- even if you're only going a couple of blocks. Safety experts also say kids should never ride in the way-back part of station wagons, or in the open backs of vans or trucks. Kids should never ride in open pickup trucks, either.
You may have better seat belt habits than your parents do. When you get in the car, buckle your own. Then ask your parents to do the same thing. Remind them that wearing seat belts saves lives.
If you ride a bus to school, you should never go into the street while waiting for the bus. And on the bus, it's important to stay in your seat until the driver or safety patrol says it's okay to get off.
Walking to school without adult supervision can be exciting, and can make you feel independent. But it pays to know there are risks involved.
So take this advice from Mark:
"If you walk to and from school, cross at the corners. Don't cross in the middle of the block. Look both ways before you step off the curb. I do it twice, just to make sure."
It's also important to remember not to talk to strangers and not to go with strangers. Let your teachers know that you and your friend will be walking to school, and tell them what time you'll be getting there. Don't pet any animals you don't know. And don't walk home alone. If your friend gets sick, find someone else to walk with, or ask a teacher or someone else's parent to go with you.
Mark says: "When you get home, tell your mom or dad or a neighbor that you're safe. Then you can play." Tips for Parents
Many national community organization, from the American Automobile Association and the National Safety Council to your local police and fire departments, provide support for parents concerned about safety both in the home and outside it. In the District, Children's Hospital's Trauma Service has come up with a questionnaire called "How Safe Is Your Child?" to help you evaluate your own and your community's safety awareness. To receive a copy contact the Trauma Service, Children's Hospital National Medical Center, 111 Michigan Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20010; (202) 745-5193.
Here are some sample questions: Does your child know to look both ways when crossing the street? Does your child wear a helmet when riding a bike? Does your child walk rather than ride his or her bike across busy intersections? Is your child aware of the "Never talk to or go with strangers" rule? Do you always take your child out of the car with you when you are running daily errands in your community?