As schools open for another year, parents and teachers share a worry: Will kids get to school safely?
There are lots of ways to get between home and school, and kids in the Washington area use all of them. Street-smart traveling is important whether you go by school bus, car pool, Metro, walking or bicycling. To start the school year right, the National Safe Kids Campaign wants to make sure that young people are aware of the dangers out there on the roads and that they have brushed up on their pedestrian safety rules.
Is it important to know these rules? You bet it is!
Each year, nearly 900 children age 14 and under die and another 24,000 are injured in traffic-related crashes, the Safe Kids Campaign reports.
Often, kids involved in such accidents help cause them by darting out from between parked cars, crossing in front of turning vehicles or doing other similarly dangerous things.
Some accidents are unavoidable, but there are things you can do to keep yourself as safe as possible while walking to school or elsewhere. They include:
* Walking on sidewalks. If a sidewalk is not available, walk facing oncoming traffic and stay as far to the left as possible.
* Trying to make eye contact with the drivers of stopped or turning vehicles. Do not assume that drivers can see you!
* Watching for vehicles turning into or backing out of parking spaces.
* Never entering the street if the "Don't Walk" signal is on or flashing. Wait for the next "Walk" signal.
* Being extra careful when streets are wet from rain or snow. Allow extra time and distance for vehicles to stop. Be careful not to let your rain hood or umbrella block your vision.
* Looking in all directions before crossing the street.
* Always crossing at corners or crosswalks. Never cross in the middle of a block on a busy street.
Riding a school bus is one of the safest ways to travel to school, but injuries do occur. Many happen when children are boarding or exiting the bus. There's a "blind spot"--an area where the driver's vision is blocked--extending about 10 feet in front of a school bus. If children are within that 10-foot area, the bus driver cannot see them, so it's important to avoid it.
If you ride the bus, it is also important to be careful while on board. You should remain seated at all times and keep the aisles clear; avoid throwing anything; do not shout or distract the driver; keep your head and arms inside the bus at all times; and wait until the bus comes to a full stop before exiting.
If you ride your bike to school, you need to be extra careful. More than 350,000 children were treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries in 1997, the Safe Kids Campaign reports. To avoid joining that number, follow these rules:
* Wear bicycle helmets at all times when bicycling.
* Follow the rules of the road. Ride on the right side of the road, with traffic. Use appropriate hand signals. Obey traffic lights. Stop at all intersections and look left, right and left again before entering or crossing the street.
* Plan a safe cycling route with your parents and ride it with them before you try it on your own.
* When you get to school, avoid car pool and bus drop-off and pickup zones. Your school should place bike racks in areas where there are few motor vehicles and pedestrians.
Finally, for you car-poolers, there's one important reminder. As soon as you get into the car, fasten your safety belt!
Tips for Parents
"As fall approaches and children prepare to return to school, it's important for parents and children to go over safety tips together," says Heather Paul, executive director of the National Safe Kids Campaign. Even kids in junior high need reminders to be "street smart" and act as effective role models for younger children on the way to school.
For more information about child safety issues, or to find out about the many volunteer opportunities with the Safe Kids Campaign, visit the Safe Kids Web site, www.safekids.org, or contact the organization's national office at 202-662-0600.
For You to Do
By now, the rules for getting to school safely are familiar to you, but what about younger kids? As school begins this year, ask your teacher if you can use some class time to create a simple quiz or invent a game based on the safety information above. Make posters or other props to get your safety message across to younger kids, too. Ask your teacher to help you arrange a meeting with younger kids at your school or at a nearby day care center. Ask the children the questions on your quiz or play the safety game you made up. It's important to be a good role model for younger children. Little kids love learning from older kids! It's fun for you, too--and you may even help prevent an injury.