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AAA: Stay alert as kids head back to school

AAA-LogoAs summer draws to a close and the classroom bell rings in the new school year, AAA Mid-Atlantic and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education want to remind motorists that driving habits must change to insure the safety of children heading back to school throughout the Commonwealth. AAA’s annual School’s Open – Drive Carefully safety initiative has kicked off in full swing with the partnership of some local police departments in the Commonwealth.  The School’s Open-Drive Carefully campaign reminds motorists to watch out for the youngsters in their neighborhoods, in school zones, and other places.

“The first days of school are here in parts of the Commonwealth and as hurried children rush to the bus stop, we are reminding motorists to slow down and drive distraction free,” said Haley Glynn, Traffic Safety Community Educator for the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education. “Drivers attempting to multi-task on their way to work, including cell phone conversations and text messaging, put excited children in harm’s way at bus stops in area neighborhoods. Though it is basic safety knowledge, drivers need to stay on the look-out for these young children, avoid driving distracted, and slow down.”

As part of the campaign, the auto club and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education offer the following tips for motorists to help keep children safe as they return to school. Additional advice for motorists, parents and students can be found on the Foundation’s web page at AAA.com/Foundation. Topics include a variety of tips on school zone, school bus, pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Slow down and follow the speed limit. Whether in a school zone or residential neighborhood, motorists should keep their speed low and be prepared to stop quickly for school buses and for increased vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Many school zones now employ speed cameras to slow down traffic to further help protect children as they head to and from school.

Come to a complete stop at intersections with stop signs. Research shows that more than one third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods.

Look for clues of children nearby. Keep an eye out for clues that children are likely nearby such as AAA School Safety Patrol members, crossing guards, bicycles and playgrounds.

Scan between parked cars. Nearly 40 percent of child pedestrian fatalities occurred between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., mostly at non-intersection locations, according to NHTSA. Children can quickly dart out between parked cars or other objects along the roadway. Motorists should pay close attention not only at intersections, but along any residential roadways where children could be present.

Always stop for loading or unloading school busses. It may be tempting to drive around stopped school buses, but not only is it dangerous, it’s against the law. Flashing yellow lights on a school bus indicate it is preparing to stop to load or unload children, and motorists should slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped, and children are getting on and off. Motorists are required to stop their vehicles from either direction of the road, and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.

Eliminate driver distraction. Motorists should always avoid distractions while driving, but it’s particularly important in school zones and residential neighborhoods. Looking away from the roadway for just two seconds doubles the chance of being involved in a crash. Avoid talking on mobile phones, adjusting the radio or any other activities that might take attention away from the roadway.  Put phones on silent or turn them off until safely parked to avoid the temptation of texting while driving, which is against the law in Virginia.

Plan ahead and allot extra travel time. Leave early for your destination and build in extra time for congestion. Modify your route to avoid school zones and traffic.

The Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education also urges parents and caregivers to instruct children in the “A-B-Cs” of traffic safety:

  • A – Always obey school crossing guards and AAA school safety patrols.
  • B – Look both ways every time you cross the street.
  • C – Use crosswalks and corners to cross the roads even when cars are not around.
  • D – Don’t run or rush, and do remember that drivers can’t always see you.
  • E – Even and especially when it is raining, snowing, or cold, follow the safety rules.
  • F – Face it: you are no match for a car. They are faster and bigger, and they can be a danger to kids, so watch out!