Students across the country are returning to classes soon on foot, bicycles, as well as in cars and school buses. To prevent traffic-related injuries and fatalities to students, AAA Northern New England reminds drivers to slow down and stay alert in and around school zones as well as in other areas where children might be present. Crashes are one of the leading causes of death for school-aged children. The afternoon hours are particularly dangerous. Nearly one-third of child pedestrian fatalities occur between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Kids are particularly vulnerable because they are small and less visible to drivers, don’t always make safe decisions near streets, and can be easily distracted when around other kids. Children are not adults, so it is up to drivers to compensate for these differences. AAA’s School’s Open – Drive Carefully! awareness campaign began in 1946 to help reduce child pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Today, this effort is more important than ever due to the prevalence of drivers with smartphones and the increase in distracted driving on our roads.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,522 people died in distracted-related crashes in the U.S. in 2021. That’s an average of 9 people killed each day in crashes that are totally preventable. Distracted driving is especially dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. Non-drivers account for nearly one in five distracted driving deaths. The true numbers of deaths and injuries due to distraction are likely much higher though because distracted driving is often underreported or difficult to determine as the cause of a crash.
“School-aged children will soon be going to and from campuses, so drivers should prepare for them,” said Pat Moody, Manager of Public Affairs for AAA Northern New England. “If you drive distracted you are “intexticated” behind the wheel, and you could cause the same tragedies as a driver who is impaired by alcohol or drugs. So, make it a habit to put smartphones out of sight and stay alert on the road, especially in school zones, in neighborhoods, around parks, and near bus stops,” said Moody.
AAA joins Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT), the world’s largest telematics service provider, to remind the public about the dangers of distracted driving during this time of year. According to CMT research:
- Screen interaction has increased during the back-to-school period (August 1 through Labor Day) every year since 2020. It was 15% higher last year than in 2020.
- Since 2020, distracted driving nationwide has caused 31,000 crashes, 80 fatalities, and more $740 million in economic damage during the back-to-school period.
To prevent injuries and deaths this school year, AAA reminds drivers to:
- Eliminate distractions and put down cell phones. Children often cross the road unexpectedly and may emerge suddenly between parked cars.
- Use the Driving Focus features on your smartphone
- Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
- Talk with teens. More than one-quarter of fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during after-school hours,
- Fully stop at stop signs. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or on neighborhood streets. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before continuing.
- Watch out for bicycles. Children on bikes can be inexperienced, unsteady, and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and the bicycle.
- Watch for school buses. Drivers should slow down and prepare to stop if they see yellow flashing lights which indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload kids. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms means the bus has stopped and children are actively getting on or off. Drivers MUST stop and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm withdraws, and the bus begins to move before they can drive again.
Parents and guardians should also:
- Walk school routes with young children to point out potential traffic hazards.
- Remind kids to watch the road and not their phones. Ask them not to call, text or play games until at their destination or stopped in a safe location.
- Ask students to remove headphones or turn down the volume so they can hear what’s going on around them.
- Encourage students to always watch out for cars and make eye contact with drivers before crossing a street or crosswalk to make sure the driver sees them.
- Remind kids not to play, push or shove others when they walk around traffic.
- Ensure bicyclists wear a correctly fitted helmet and securely fastened chin strap on each and every bike ride.
- Talk about school bus safety with riders including, staying five steps away from the curb, waiting until buses come to a complete stop and the driver signals for them to board first, and always look left-right-left for cars before exiting the bus and crossing the street.