Keep your kids safe getting to and from school

Going to and from school might be the most dangerous part of your kid’s day. Here are some things both parents and kids can do to make it safer.

Photo: Today's Parent
Photo: Stocksy United

By bus
“Annie loves riding the bus,” says Amber Fraser, a mom of two in Peterborough, Ont. Fraser says she doesn’t worry much about seven-year-old Annie once she’s on the bus, but getting on and off pose some challenges. “In the mornings we have to cross a lane of traffic to board the bus, and the stop is on a busy road without stoplights. There have been times when cars have run through the bus’s flashing stop signs.”

Here are some things to teach your kids about bus safety.

  • When getting on and off, watch for oncoming traffic. It may seem obvious, but kids can be overexcited to see mom or dad, so teach them to take a moment before they step off.
  • Wait until the safety arm and stoplights of the bus are engaged and traffic is at a halt.
  • Whenever possible, hold an adult’s hand.

“In the morning it’s also important to get to the stop at least five minutes early so you’re not rushing – that’s when accidents happen.” Says Les Cross, president of the Ontario School Bus Association.

By car
More kids are being driven to school than ever before – about 62 percent – according to the 2016 ParticipAction Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.

That’s a lot of vehicles swarming school zones at bell times. A study from York University and the Hospital for Sick Children found incidents of dangerous driving during the drop-off rush at 88 percent of the elementary schools they studied. Between drivers jockeying for limited parking spots, kids weaving through cars, and parents doing things like stopping in the middle (or even the other side) of the street to let their kids out or peeling away using U-turns, school zones can be hazardous, says Wallace Beaton, program manager for Active & Safe Routes to School in Ottawa.

To help kids stay safe, reinforce all of the common-sense pedestrian safety rules. Students should look both ways for traffic before stepping out of the car and walk, never run, to and from the car.

On foot
If you’re pressed for time, consider starting a walking club with other nearby families where a rotating cast of grown-ups takes turns chaperoning the kids. Or, if you’re too far to walk, consider hoofing it partway even one or two days a week. By parking a few blocks away, you’re relieving some of the congestion in front of the school and you also reap the benefits of extra time – and exercise – with your kid. The quality of the conversations you’ll have likely beat any you’d have via the rearview mirror. “We always have some of the best chats on our walks,” says Julie Sutton, a mom of two in Gatineau, QC.

Parents should always practice the safe-crossing method (looking both ways, holding hands and crossing at crosswalks). Kids on bikes and scooters should dismount and walk at crosswalks, too. And, in the dark winter months, all walkers and wheelers should be wearing something reflective or even carrying a small flashlight to ensure they’re visible.

“Generally, kids under 10 can’t safely assess traffic, like the speed of oncoming cars,” says Wallace Beaton of Active & Safe Routes to School. “But kids all mature at different rates, and only you can decide when your child is ready.”

*This article was published in our September 2016 issue. 

Read more:
A parent’s guide to pedestrian safety
Teaching street safety
Pedestrian safety

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