The new school year is upon us and children are settling into their fall routines. High on the to-do list is working out which mode of transportation the kids will use to get to and from school. Depending on where you live—city, suburb, or country—and how far away from school you live, some transportation choices can be safer or more practical than others. Find out which will work best before school starts, if possible, and always have a backup plan in mind. Here are tips to keep the kids safe no matter which you choose.
School buses are built to be better than passenger vehicles at preventing crash injuries and they are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school. Their color and size make them easily visible, and they are specifically designed to protect children like eggs in a carton—in compartments surrounded by padding. The high seat backs help protect children from an impact. Fatality statistics show that students who ride buses are about 20 times safer than those transported by a parent or other adult and 50 times safer than if they drive themselves or get a ride with friends. (See our tips for how to safely share the road with buses.)
In an ideal world parents would walk their children to school. That not only allows for proper supervision and family exercise, but it’s better for the environment and parents can actually get some time to talk to their children. Another benefit is that adults are able to teach children about street safety and how to navigate the roads. But make sure the route is pedestrian friendly, with sidewalks and safe places to cross the street. If an adult cannot accompany children everyday, form a group to walk together or take turns with another parent. Children under 10 should not walk or cross streets by themselves. Be extra wary, as parents dropping off kids can be easily distracted, and there may be inexperienced teen drivers on the road.
If you choose to send your children to school on a bicycle, make sure they are wearing a properly fitted helmet and know how to secure it. It is best to wear bright clothing to enhance visibility. The bike should be well maintained with working brakes and properly inflated tires. Also check that there is a designated place to park the bike at school, so it doesn’t interfere with buses or cars. A chain lock can ensure the bicycle doesn’t ride home with another child. If a kid (or anyone else) has to ride home in the dark, reflective clothing and bike lights are musts.
If there is no school bus service and walking is not an option, then a parent or other adult must drive. This isn’t the ideal option as it demands a twice-daily commitment from the parent and adds to traffic congestion and pollution. If you must drive, remember that you are modeling good driving behavior for the children in the car. Follow the speed limit, never pass a vehicle in a school zone, don’t block the crosswalk, and always stop for buses. Be sure all children are appropriately secured. Young kids, typically 4 to 7 years, should be in a forward-facing car seat with a built-in harness. Older school-aged children up to 4’9” should ride in a booster seat, and all children under 13 years old should sit in the back seat. Consider parking a few blocks away to reduce congestion near the school and provide kids with at least a little exercise and fresh air.
Going back to school is exciting, and scary, enough without worrying about transportation. Following these tips and providing proper guidance can help ensure your little ones arrive safely.
For more advice on driving with kids, see our special section. Also, see our booster seat Ratings to find the right seat for driving kids to school.
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