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Back to school safety: slow down, share the road

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Whether its school bus drivers making their stops, bike riders whizzing by in traffic or parents dropping their kids off, it is everyone’s responsibility to use caution and stay alert to ensure children travel to and from school safely.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 100 children in the United States are killed while walking to or from school and the National Center for Safe Routes to School reports nearly 17,000 children sustain injuries in school zone accidents every year.

Unfortunately, I almost contributed to these disheartening statistics, several years ago, I impatiently maneuvered into congested traffic in a school zone, rear-ending a vehicle. Luckily, neither the driver nor any children were injured. Since then, I no longer allow myself to be frustrated at the wheel or in a hurry. Safety is now my highest priority when driving because I know being selfish can cost someone their life.

To ensure safe transportation, everyone should make sure they properly protect themselves and others. Sharing the road during the school day can be stressful, but reducing the risk of school-zone traffic accidents is a combined effort between drivers, bus riders, bicyclists and walkers.

As a child, the highlight of my day was waking up to a big breakfast served by my parents and having them accompany me at the bus stop until I boarded. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises that children under the age of 10 to be escorted by a parent or legal guardian, not everyone has the privilege to have adult supervision at the bus stop.

To accommodate for those who don’t have this guidance, kids can form walking groups in the morning and afternoon. From experience, strength in numbers alleviates the feeling of being scared and also helps protect kids from being approached by strangers. However, whether being supervised by an adult or with a group of peers, I knew to trust the bus driver and abide the rules.

Using the same principles taught from my years as a bus rider, ranging from the “left-right-left” looking technique before crossing the roads to always anticipating moving traffic, I traded in my bus card for a helmet and my own wheels.

The ability to ride a bike to school is a challenging, yet needed, experience for kids, I believe. Although school districts have different requirements, I had to pass a road rules test for school-zone procedures before I could be a bike rider, bicyclist or walker. Knowing early on what direction I should travel, wearing bright colors and reflective gear, and donning protective gear helped me prepare for all means of road transportation.

Through the experience of mistakes, trial and error, and getting feedback and asking questions to the law enforcement participants directing traffic, I managed to get a better understanding of sharing the road safely. Although it’s everyone’s responsibility to be safe in the roads, adults are held to a higher standard of abiding by the law as drivers.

School-day traffic can be wearying but by planning ahead and allowing extra time to reach the destination, drivers can help alleviate their stress. This reduces the feeling of being rushed which allows people to focus on driving correctly, following the speed limits, and keeping an eye for pedestrians at crosswalks, children leaving school buses and bicyclists in traffic.

Using these traffic safety rules and exercising a little extra care and caution, drivers and pedestrians can co-exist safely in school-zones. No matter how experienced we may be in our means of transportation, it’s always important to be cognizant of traffic laws and our surroundings to reduce the risk of traffic accidents.

Safety should be the highest priority when traveling regardless of the person or destination. One accident can alter the rest of someone’s life. However, don’t let one wrong turn, mistake, or ignorance of the law result in obstructing a child’s pursuit in education like I almost did.

For more information on school-zone safety, please visit www.nsc.org/learn/Pages/keep-children-safe-at-school.aspx