Getting to School Safely

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 13, 2001 -- School buses are about to start rolling and all children need a safety review this time of year -- whether they are very young children riding the bus, older kids walking to the bus stop alone, or biking it. And if your child has hit the teen years, driving to school may be an issue in your home.

In 1999, an estimated 7,000 children were injured in school bus-related incidents, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign. Thirty-one were killed that year -- more than half killed as they approached or were leaving the bus, says Heather Paul, PhD, executive director of Safe Kids.

The problem: the "blind spot danger zone" -- the 10-foot area surrounding the bus, Paul tells WebMD.

"The driver cannot see a child close to any side of the bus," says Paul. "Sadly, when children can see the bus driver, the bus driver cannot see them. All children should know that.

"More than half of all school-aged children who get killed in school-bus accidents are between the ages of 5 and 7," she says. "So we're talking about really small kids, who don't know the rules of the road, who don't understand buses. Parents and teachers need to teach them those lessons."

Her advice for you and your child:

  • Arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus arrives.
  • Stay out of the street and avoid horseplay.
  • Cross the street at least 10 feet (or 10 giant steps) in front of the bus.
  • Use the handrail to avoid falls.
  • Always wait for parents on the same side of the street as the school bus.
  • Remove loose drawstrings or ties on jackets and sweatshirts that can snag on bus handrails, and replace them with Velcro, snaps, or buttons.
  • Ask the bus driver for help if anything is dropped while entering or exiting the bus.

"We never advise kids under age 10 to walk to the bus stop alone," Paul tells WebMD. "They don't have the cognitive abilities to make the right decisions. You don't have to hold a 10-year-old's hand, but there should be a mature adult walking with them."

But if your child is ready to walk it alone, here are some more tips:

  • Choose the safest route and walk it with your child a few times.
  • Teach your child to recognize and obey all traffic signals and markings.
  • Make sure your child looks in all directions before crossing the street.
  • Teach your child not to enter the street from between parked cars or from behind bushes or shrubs.
  • Teach your child to cross the street at the corner or crosswalk.
  • Warn your child to be extra alert in bad weather.

Neighborhood safety is another issue, says Kellie Foster, spokesperson for the National Crime Prevention Center in Washington. "It's a good idea for neighbors to get together, to keep an eye out for reach other," Foster tells WebMD. "It's one of the simplest ways to encourage safety. ... A child should know that they can go to any responsible adult -- a police officer, crossing guard, mailman -- if they do not feel safe."

Encourage your child to walk to and from the bus stop with a friend. And make sure you and your child know each other's schedule. "That reduces fear and provides peace of mind for both of you," Foster says.

As for kids who ride bikes to school, these are the SAFE KIDS safety tips:

  • Wear bike helmets at all times when bicycling.
  • Follow the rules of the road.
  • Never let your child on the road without direct adult supervision until age 10.
  • Plan a safe cycling route with your child and ride it with them.
  • Do not ride at night.
  • Make sure schools provide cyclists with "safe areas" for bike racks.

But if it's a teenager you're dealing with, chances are the issue of driving to school has raised its head. Dale Wisely, PhD, a psychologist in Birmingham, Ala., has ushered many families through this phase.

He advocates developing a contract with your teen. "It's one way of signaling to teenagers that you take [driving] very seriously," he tells WebMD. "Be willing to say 'we don't care what other kids, other parents do.'"

The contract should outline driving rules, how to deal with distractions, use of cell phones and CD players, and limits on the number of passengers in the car, "a major source of trouble," Wisely says. "Friends in the car are a distraction. I don't think it's a good idea when they've just started driving. Maybe later on, after they've had some experience driving, they can pick up one friend."

Also, teens that can't get out of bed in the morning tend to drive faster to get to school on time. Wisely has a solution. "I advise parents to put this in the rules: that if they're going drive to school, they must leave by certain time or they don't drive. Either the parent drives them, or they just don't go to school. People are shocked. But parents have to ask themselves, 'What's at stake?' It could mean burying their own child."

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