August 19, 2020 –– Most everything is different as the 2020-2021 school year begins amidst a pandemic. In districts where students are returning to full-time in-person learning or a hybrid of remote and classroom instruction, transportation will undoubtedly be impacted, affecting all motorists and pedestrians.
Those driving through various school districts may be caught off-guard when encountering those having in-person learning. Extra attention is required so driving habits formed in the six months since school has been in session don’t lead to complacency.
AAA Oklahoma advises all drivers to be prepared for big changes in neighborhoods, apartment complexes and around school zones:
- Staggered schedules mean school buses will be on the roads at atypical times.
- Many parents may opt to transport their children to and from school, avoiding the school bus ride but increasing the volume of vehicles during drop-off and pickup.
- More students may take to walking or biking to school, increasing foot and bike traffic close to schools.
“Due to COVID-19, students have even more on their minds at a time when the adrenaline of a new school year is already flowing. This can lead to poor decision-making when crossing roads or parking lots,” says Leslie Gamble, AAA Oklahoma spokesperson. “We must do our part by slowing down and not driving distracted.”
AAA Oklahoma offers the following tips for those in districts re-opening in-person:
AAA Drop-Off/Pick-Up Safety Tips
- Follow school drop-off and pick-up procedures.
- Don’t double park, it blocks visibility for other children and vehicles.
- Don’t load or unload children across the street from the school.
- Have children exit the vehicle on the “curb side” every time (so they aren’t opening the car door into an oncoming traffic lane or crossing around the front/back of car to get to curb)
- Slow down, eliminate distractions, and watch for children.
AAA School Bus Safety Tips
- Always Stop for School Buses – Flashing yellow lights on a school bus indicate it is preparing to stop to load or unload children and motorists should slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on and off. Motorists approaching buses from any direction are required to stop their vehicles and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.
- Keep Track of Time – Be aware of the time of day you’re on the road and how that coincides with the school day. More school-age pedestrians are killed from 7 to 8 a.m. and from 3 to 4 p.m. than any other hours of the day.
- Slow Down – Whether in a school zone or residential neighborhood, drivers should keep their speed low and be prepared to stop quickly for increased vehicle or pedestrian traffic.
- Come to a complete stop. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
- Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. Children can be quick, crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by not using your cell phone while driving.
- Obey Traffic Signs – Unfortunately, many motorists violate stop signs in school zones and residential neighborhoods –many failing to come to a complete stop, rolling through a stop sign or not slowing down at all.
AAA Pedestrian Safety Tips
- Cross only at corners so drivers can see you. Never cross between parked cars or mid-block.
- Use a crosswalk when it’s available. Don’t assume that because you can see the driver, the driver can see you. Always use caution when crossing.
- Look all ways before crossing. Look and listen for cars, pedestrians and bicyclists.
- Cross right when the light turns green so you have time to cross safely.
- Use the crosswalk push-button signal when possible, and cross when the signal allows.
- Watch for cars that are turning left or right when you are crossing.
- Walk on a sidewalk when it is provided. If you must walk in the street, walk facing traffic, on the left side of the road and as far to the left as possible.
- Make it easy for drivers to see you – dress in light colors, wear reflective material or use a flashlight.
- Remove headphones and don’t use cell phones or electronic devices when crossing the street.
- Watch for white lights on vehicles signaling backing up in driveways or parking lots.
- Avoid walking alone. Walk with a friend.
AAA Bicycle Safety Tips
- Make sure your child has the skills to ride a bike safely, such as riding in a straight line and signaling to vehicles when turning.
- Choose the safest route to bike to school, one with less traffic and slower speeds. Use bike paths if they are available.
- Make sure your cyclists understand traffic safety rules, such as riding in the same direction as traffic and stopping at all stop signs and signals.
- Explain the importance of wearing a bike helmet to your child. They’re critical to minimizing injury in case of a crash. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, wearing a helmet can reduce the odds of head injury by half.
- Ride focused and alert. Never use earbuds or electronics while riding.
“No matter the plan, no matter the mode of transportation, everyone needs to remain vigilant – put down the phone, look up, and pay attention to help local students get to and from school safely,” says Gamble.