Be smart when going back to school

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 9, 2004

It’s almost here. Soon, backpack-wearing youngsters will be heading out the door for a brand new school year.

While teachers prepare lesson plans for the coming year, parents and children alike need to remember an important lesson: Safety first. When you follow the rules, everyone comes out a winner.

Safe streets?

Email newsletter signup

Statistics show school buses are a safe means of transportation for the nearly 25 million students who ride them each year in the U.S.

However, when other drivers don’t observe school bus-related traffic laws, or children fail to follow school bus safety rules, tragedy can and does occur.

Pedestrian injuries are the second leading cause of accidental death among children ages five to 14 in the U.S. More than 70 percent of deaths in school bus-related crashes are occupants of other vehicles; 20 percent are pedestrians. What can be done to keep children and motorists safe?

Know the rules

First of all, drivers need to be extra-cautious when following or meeting a school bus on its rounds. All drivers of vehicles should remember they are required by law to stop for a school bus whenever it is stopped to load or unload passengers.

Drivers also need to keep their eyes open and be watchful for children as they cross the road or street each morning and afternoon on their way to and from school.

By the same token, it’s important for parents to teach their youngsters safety tips before they climb aboard those big yellow buses. The following are some guidelines from the National Safety Council parents can share with their children:

n Always look left, right, then left again before crossing any street. If your vision is blocked by a parked car or some other obstacle, move over until you are able to see, and be seen, by anyone on the road.

n Always try to cross a street where a crossing guard is present. Never cross against the traffic light.

n While waiting for the bus, stay away from traffic and avoid roughhousing or other behavior that can lead to carelessness. Don’t stray onto private property, streets or alleys.

n Line up away from the street or road as the school bus approaches. Wait until the bus has stopped and the door opens before stepping into the roadway.

n Use the handrail when climbing aboard the bus.

n Once on the bus, find a seat and sit down. Loud talking or other noise can distract the bus driver. Don’t put head, arms, hands or feet out the window.

n Keep aisles clear. Books and bags are tripping hazards and can block the way in case of an emergency.

n Before you reach your stop, get ready to leave by getting books and other belongings together. Wait for the bus to stop completely before getting up.

n If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk at least 10 feet (five giant steps) ahead of the bus along the side of the road, until you can turn around and see the driver and he/she can see you. Wait for a signal from the driver before crossing the road. Keep an eye out for any sudden traffic changes. A basic rule of thumb: expect the unexpected.

n NEVER go under the bus to retrieve any object that has rolled or fallen under it. Stay away from the rear wheels of the bus at all times and never cross behind the bus.

By bike or by car

Children who ride their bikes to school should follow these guidelines:

n Always ride a helmet. Helmets can reduce the incidence of head injury by as much as 85 percent.

n Mind all traffic signals and/or crossing guards and never cross the street

against the light, even if you don’t see any traffic coming.

n Walk your bike through intersections.

n Wear reflective materials.

Have you heard it’s more likely you’ll have a car accident close to home? It’s true. The best safety tip parents and caregivers who drive children to school can follow is this: use those safety belts and restraints.

In the event of a crash, safety belts lower the risk of injury by 45 percent. (Occupants are four times more likely to be seriously injured or killed if ejected from a vehicle involved in a crash.)

Everyone needs to be buckled up properly, with the driver setting a good example for the youngsters. Older children should be in seatbelts, younger children, in booster seats and little ones in child safety seats.

Stranger danger

Parents need to teach children to be on their guard against those who might wish them harm, and schools need to be vigilant in protecting their students.

At Fort Dale Academy, kindergartners must be signed in and out by their parents or a designated responsible adult.

&uot;We ask the parents to provide us with a list of those who have permission to pick up their children,&uot; says school secretary Pat Sims. The school also requires all students be picked up in front of the school.

According to principal Carole Teague, W.O. Parmer Elementary requires a parent to come in person to pick up their child. &uot;We do not allow telephone checkouts here…we also ask the child to come to the office and meet the parent there, rather than in front of the building. Things can happen between the child’s classroom and the front steps and we just like to be sure the child is indeed picked up, and he or she is O.K.,&uot; says Teague.

The names of any individuals parents may have given permission to pick up their children are stored on computer at the school, Teague says. The school likes to take it a step further, however.

&uot;We do ask for photo I.D. in the event there’s anyone we don’t know for certain is the right person. Sometimes an aunt or grandmother is given permission to pick up a child for a dental appointment, for example. We have to verify this is the person authorized by the parent,&uot; Teague explains, adding, &uot;We are fortunate being here in a small town where we get to know most of the parents and many of the family members.&uot;

The following are some tips for safety-conscious parents, courtesy of the National Safe Kids Campaign:

n Make sure your child knows his or her full name, address and phone number.

n Make sure your child knows how to place a long-distance phone call.

n Know your child’s friends and your neighbors, including their names, addresses and telephone numbers.

n Know the routes your child takes to and from school, friends’ homes and other activities.

n Be involved in your children’s activities by volunteering at school, clubs and sporting events. Participate in neighborhood watch groups.

n Remind your children to never give out personal information to anyone over the Internet.

n Check out your child’s caregivers; look into references and qualifications.

n Teach children what to do when approached by a stranger. Remind them not to get in a car or go with anyone unless you as a parent say it is O.K.

n Teach your children to beware of anyone who offers them a ride, candy or gifts, asks them to look for a lost dog or cat or claims their parent asked them to bring the child home because of an emergency.


In the event your child discovers he is being followed on foot or by car, he or she should stay away from that person. They shouldn’t get close to any car unless a parent or trusted adult is with them.

n Teach your children to get away quickly from anyone who tries to take them somewhere. Tell them to yell, &uot;This man (or woman) is trying to take me away.&uot;

n Encourage your child to travel with a friend and never go places alone.

n Teach your child to never hitchhike or try to get a ride home without your permission.

n Let your child know they have the right to say &uot;no&uot; to anyone who tries to take them somewhere, touch them in private places or who makes them uncomfortable, scared or confused in any way.

n Listen to your child; don’t disregard or discount their fears. Let them know you take their fears and concerns seriously.