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Getting to School Safely
As you’re getting your children ready for school, it’s a good time to prepare them for getting there safely. Whether your children walk, ride a bike, take a school bus or are driven to school, there are important safety guidelines to review together.

Walking to school is a wonderful opportunity for children to think, talk with siblings and friends and get to know the neighborhood and natural surroundings. In addition, it’s an excellent source of exercise. However, children can also get hurt walking. Each year in the United States, approximately 40,000 children age 14 and under are treated in emergency rooms for pedestrian injuries, and approximately 700 die from their injuries. The greatest danger is for children under 10 because they’re less aware of their surroundings, they’re more likely to dart out into the street and their small size makes them less visible to drivers. Nearly half of pedestrian injuries occur between 4 and 8 pm—after school and around dusk—when children are walking home and visibility may be limited.

Before school starts, plan the most direct route to school with the fewest street crossings. If the school has an adult crossing guard to help children at a busy intersection, instruct your children to cross with the guard. Walk the route several times with them until they know how to do it safely.

Teach your children the following pedestrian safety rules—and, when applicable, be sure to model these practices yourself:

  • Whenever possible, walk to school with a parent, sibling, neighbor or friend.

  • Walk on sidewalks, if available. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the far left-hand side of the road, facing oncoming traffic.

  • When walking on the sidewalk or street, beware of cars pulling out of driveways.

  • Cross the street safely:
  • Have children under 10 cross with an adult.

  • Always cross at the corner and in the crosswalks, if available. Do not cross in the middle of the block or between parked cars.

  • Follow the traffic signals, if available. Know the meaning of the signs for walk/don’t walk, and the green/red lights.

  • Stop at the curb before crossing. Look left, right and left again to make sure no cars are coming. Cross when the traffic is clear, and continue to look left and right for cars while crossing.
  • Do not accept rides from strangers, even if they say they’ll give you candy or money, they need help finding a lost pet or that your parent told them to pick you up. (Parents, have a secret password that someone needs to tell your children if you’ve asked them to be picked up.) If someone follows you or bothers you, scream for them to get away from you and run to the nearest house or store for help.
Riding a Bicycle
Bicycle riding is a convenient way to get to school, particularly if it’s too far to walk. It also provides excellent exercise. However, children can get injured on bicycles. Nearly 300,000 children age 14 and under are treated in emergency rooms nationwide each year, and over 100 children die in bicycle crashes.

Before school starts, plan the most direct route for riding to school that also avoids streets with heavy traffic and has the fewest street crossings. Ride the route several times with your children until they know how to do it safely.

Teach your children the following bicycle safety rules. As with walking, be a good model by following the same rules:

  • Always wear a helmet. They reduce the risk of head injury—the leading cause of death in bike crashes—by as much as 85 percent. Buy helmets that meet the CPSC and ASTM standards, and make sure your children wear them correctly positioned on their head, with the straps secured under their chin.

  • Have your children ride on sidewalks and paths until they are 10 years old and able to ride safely on street. They must be able to ride straight on the edge of the road without swerving into the street, and follow traffic signals and stop signs.

  • When riding on the street, follow the rules of the road for all vehicles. Ride on the far right-hand side of the road, with the traffic. Follow the traffic signals and stop signs. Before entering or crossing a street, look left, right and left again to avoid traffic and pedestrians.

  • Avoiding riding in the dark Children are nearly four times as likely to be injured riding at night, dawn and dusk. If your child needs to ride in the dark, make sure he has reflectors on his bicycle, helmet and clothes.

  • Make sure the school has safe areas for your children to lock their bikes and store their helmets. Avoid the automobile drop-off and pick-up zones and school parking lots.

  • Taking the Bus
    Riding the school bus is a good opportunity to get to know other children. Although it is one of the safest ways to get to school, each year approximately 4,500 children age 14 and under are injured and nearly 30 children die from school bus incidents in this country.

    Teach your children the following school bus safety rules:

    Waiting for the bus
  • Wait at the bus stop, at the curb. Stay off the street.

  • Do not hit or push other children.

  • Getting on or off the bus
  • Wait until the bus stops before moving toward the bus, or getting off it.

  • Walk in a single-file line. Do not push.

  • Use the handrail to avoid falls.

  • If you need to cross in front of the bus, walk at least 10 feet in front of it. Many injuries happen when children are boarding and exiting the bus because the driver has a 10-foot blind spot in front of her.

  • Riding on the bus
  • Stay seated at all times.

  • Keep your head or arms inside the bus.

  • Do not hit or push other children, throw things or make loud noises, which can distract the driver.

  • Driving
    Although it may seem safest to take your children to school yourself, car crashes are a leading cause of death in young children. More than 200,000 children under age 14 are injured in the United States, while over 1,600 die in car crashes each year. Follow these safety guidelines to keep your children safe in your car:

  • Always use child safety seats and seat belts correctly. Use rear-facing infant car seats for babies up to 1 year and 20 pounds; forward-facing child car seats from 1 year and 20 pounds to 4 years and 40 pounds; booster seats with shoulder/lap seat belts from 4 years and 40 pounds to 8 years and 80 pounds; and shoulder/lap seat belts alone for children more than 8 years and 80 pounds.

  • Have children ride in the back seat until they are more than 12 years old.

  • Don’t start the car until everyone, including you, is buckled in.

  • Allow enough time in your schedule so you don’t need to drive too fast or go through yellow lights to get there on time.

  • Drop off and pick up children at a safe location. Avoid congested traffic around the school. Make sure children exit and enter the car by the curb.

  • It’s wise to start talking to your children about these safety guidelines now, before the first school bell rings. Then, make a point to remind them about the rules throughout the year. Always remember to lead by example, using safe practices in your walking, bicycling and driving. After all, you are their teacher, too!
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician