Woodward, Okla. —
OKLAHOMA CITY - Officials at AAA Oklahoma want drivers to be safe around children heading back to school on foot or by bike.
AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai notes that around 7 million U.S. youngsters, or approximately 13 percent of all 55 million school children in the nation, walk or bike to school. So it is important that drivers aware of them.
"We are warning drivers to be especially vigilant regarding pedestrians during before- and after-school hours," he said.
Mai said the hours between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. are especially dangerous, as over the last decade, nearly a third of child pedestrian fatalities occurred during those hours.
"It's up to adult drivers to watch out for children walking and biking to and from school," he said.
CROSSING GUARDS HAVE A ROLE
Drivers should also pay attention to crossing guards and follow their instructions.
Mai spotlighted the role that crossing guards play in seeing to it that children get to school safely, while exposing themselves to danger when they step into the street.
"They do great work," he said. "They provide a valuable, lifesaving service. They're out there in the morning, in the afternoon, and regardless of the weather. We really need to pay attention to them and respect their instructions and directions. I'm not sure kids could get to school safely at all without them."
WAYS TO DRIVE SAFELY
Mai said AAA recommends drivers follow 6 steps to hep keep kids safe during the school year:
- Slow down. He said there's a reason why school zones have reduced speeds. Mai said a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 25 miles per hour is about two-thirds less likely to be killed, rather than by a vehicle traveling even a little bit faster at 35 mph.
- Eliminate distractions. Mai said research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just 2 seconds doubles your chances of crashing. "Put the phone down," he said, noting that when children may be in the area, drivers should watch for the unexpected. "Children often cross the road unexpectedly and they may emerge suddenly from between parked cars," he said.
- Back up responsibly. Note blind spots. Look for children on the sidewalk, driveway and everywhere around your vehicle before backing up - slowly. "Teach your children never to play in, under or around parked vehicles," Mai said.
- Make a complete stop. He said research shows that more than a third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones and neighborhoods. "And when you come to a complete stop, watch for kids on the sidewalk, who may suddenly dart in front of you, and of course, in crosswalks," he said.
- Keep an eye out for bicyclists. "The children are often inexperienced, as well as being unsteady and just unpredictable," Mai said. "Slow down and allow at least 3 feet of passing distance between your vehicle and the biker. Require the kids to wear a properly-fitted bicycle helmet every time they ride, including to school."
- Communicate with teenage drivers, and emphasize safety when talking to them. Mai said that car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens and that more than 1 in 4 of those fatal teen crashes occur between 3 and 7 p.m. "We've got guidance and tips at TeenDriving.AAA.com," he said.