Grab your backpack and load your lunchbox: school is back in session! For parents, a new school year ushers in exciting dreams about what our kids will learn, the experiences they’ll have and the friends they’ll make along the way. But before we start imagining what adventures our kids will have in the months to come, it’s best to start with one of the most critical parts of the school day: the commute to and from school. And no matter how our kids travel to and from school, it’s our job as parents to help them do it safely.
Here are a few tips to make your child’s daily trip to school a fun and safe one. If your child is:
Veteran parents can tell you: the morning drop-off and afternoon pickup can get very crowded! Give yourself plenty of time to get to school and through the drop-off/pickup line, and stay alert: kids funneling toward the school building and other cars darting through the parking lot can create a perfect storm for an accident if you aren’t paying attention.
If your little learner is under the age of 8 years or shorter than 4’9’’, California law mandates that they must travel in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat of the car. Keep this in mind if your child car-pools or is going on a field trip. Watch the video below for a handy refresher course on car seats and booster seats.
Walking to school is a great way for kids to work more physical activity into their day, but it’s important they understand the basics of pedestrian safety first:
- Look both ways before crossing the street, and keep looking until safely across.
- Use sidewalks and cross the street only at crosswalks.
- Walk, don’t run across the street.
- Don’t use headphones or earbuds while walking, and avoid texting or talking on the phone. Be fully aware of your surroundings.
- Make eye contact with drivers before walking in front of them.
Kids under age 10 have difficulty judging speeds and distances, so they should always walk with an adult. As the year goes on and the days grow shorter, kids may be walking to or from school in low light or even darkness. Teach them to be especially alert and ensure they wear light- or brightly-colored clothing or have reflective gear or lights to make them more visible to drivers.
If your child plans on biking to school, make sure a bike helmet is on your back-to-school shopping list. According to Safe Kids, properly-fitted helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries by at least 45%, yet less than half of children 14 and under usually wear a bike helmet. To ensure your child’s helmet is a good fit, take the three-step fit test:
- Eyes – two finger widths above eyebrows 2
- Ears – side straps to form a “V” beneath the ears
- Mouth – chin strap should “hug” the jaw when mouth is opened
Aside from having a properly fitted helmet, make sure your child knows the rules of road before letting them ride on their own, and ensure they wear brightly colors or reflectors to make them more visible by drivers.
The dependable yellow school bus is the classic symbol of the school year, and it’s a great option for young learners to get to school. Before your child’s first bus ride, make sure they know these rules:
- The bus driver is the king or queen of the school bus. It’s very important to listen to them and follow their directions.
- Get to the bus stop a few minutes early. If the bus comes to your house, be ready so the bus isn’t waiting on you.
- Stand at least three giant steps back from the curb.
- Never run behind or in front of the school bus, and never reach underneath it.
For teens, having the freedom to drive yourself to and from school can be a very liberating feeling. For parents, it’s a reminder to teach our teens that reducing distracted driving boils down to just three things:
- Our eyes: Put simply, keep your eyes on the road. Never, ever drive distracted – put the phone away, pay attention to your surroundings, and be mindful of your speed.
- Our hands: While the phrase “distracted driving” often makes us think about texting, remember that we’re distracted anytime we’re fumbling around for anything while driving, including the radio or putting on makeup.
- Our brain: Remind your teens that driving is a privilege that comes with responsibility and, if not done safely, with consequences. Establish ground rules with your teen and enforce them. As parents, we can also encourage our teens' safe driving behavior by modeling it ourselves.
About the Author
Kristina Pasma, BSN, RN, CPSI, is a trauma nurse liaison at Valley Children's Healthcare. She is also the Safe Kids Central California Coalition Coordinator and is passionate about educating children and their families about injury prevention at home and in the community.