Back to school season requires increased driver alertness

During the summer months, drivers can grow accustomed to roads being free of school buses and the children waiting for them. Once school is back in session, it's important to be aware of some renewed safety issues.

Keep an eye out for school buses on the road, especially during the morning and afternoon when these vehicles will be ferrying children to and from school. You must bring your vehicle to a halt whenever a school bus is stopped with its yellow or red lights flashing, whether it is on your side of the road, the opposite side of the road, or at an intersection you're approaching. The only time you won't have to stop for a bus in this situation is if it is on the opposite side of the road and there is a median or other physical barrier to stop people from crossing the road.

Never pass a bus, either on the left or right, when it is stopped to pick up or unload children. The National Safety Council recommends leaving at least 10 feet of space around the bus to allow children to safely enter or exit.

Parents can teach their children school bus safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says children should stay at least five steps away from the curb, and only board or leave the bus when it has come to a complete stop. Children should also look both ways before leaving the bus or crossing to the other side of the street.

Children can be unpredictable, and drivers should take extra precautions when driving through school zones. Observe the speed limit, and be especially vigilant when signs in a school zone display flashing lights. Look for children who may be crossing the road, both at crosswalks and at intersections near the school.

At crosswalks, come to a complete stop to let students cross the street. Check both sides of the road one last time before proceeding; children will sometimes rush into the crosswalk to try to catch up with friends.

Children are most likely to be struck by a vehicle when they are near a school, but using safe practices can reduce the risk of injury elsewhere. The National Safety Council says parents who drop their children off at school shouldn't double park, since this impedes visibility for other drivers and students. Drop children off next to the school rather than across the street. You can also form a carpool to reduce the number of vehicles around the school.

When driving children to school, make sure everyone is wearing their seat belt. Young children may also need additional protection, such as a booster seat, to ensure that the vehicle's restraints fit properly.

You should always practice safe driving practices, but they are especially important when children are nearby. The Car Care Council recommends checking your headlights, windshield wipers, brakes, tires, and seat belts to make sure they're all in good working order. AAA says you should check your blind spots whenever you back up and eliminate any distractions while driving.

Many children walk or ride bicycles to school. The NHTSA says pedestrians should check for traffic before crossing the street and use crosswalks when possible, while bicyclists should follow traffic rules and wear a properly fitted helmet.

Drivers should always keep an eye out for students walking or bicycling near a school. AAA says you should leave at least three feet of space when passing a bicyclist. The National Safety Council says you should always stop for people crossing the road, even if you have the right of way. Never pass a vehicle that is stopped to allow pedestrians to cross.

Older students may start to drive themselves to school after receiving a license. Parents can outline their expectations for safe driving, and the consequences for violations such as getting a speeding ticket, in a parent-teen driving contract. These drivers should also abide by all teen driving rules, including restrictions on passengers and cell phone use.

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