Many kids, parents and teachers are eager to return to a regular routine of in-person school. But while much of the attention this year is focused on COVID-19 and its variant strains, students face another danger: accidents and injuries occurring on their way to or from school.
“We always like to remind parents of safety precautions they should review with their kids after summer break,” said Amy Bollinger, manager of the pediatric trauma program at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. “But after a year of virtual or hybrid learning, we’re especially concerned about the safety of children at the bus stop and the crosswalk because many students are out of practice.”
Bollinger and her colleagues at the Children’s Hospital shared essential safety tips for students who ride the bus, walk, bike or drive to school, “so your children stay safe and away from the hospital,” she said.
Bus stop safety
School buses, the most regulated vehicles on the road, are designed to keep children safe while transporting them. The potential danger is during times of transition — when kids get on or off the bus.
“For kids who are riding the bus for the first time and for young children, we recommend doing a dry run with your child before the school year starts,” Bollinger said. “Consider a trip to where the school bus stop is and help them to become familiar with the location and where to stand.”
Bollinger recommends the following safety tips for any student riding the bus:
- Be early. Plan to get your kids to the bus stop five minutes before the scheduled stop time each morning. When we’re rushed, we’re less likely to focus on safety, Bollinger said.
- Be present. A parent or caregiver should accompany their child to the bus stop each morning if at all possible, even for older elementary and middle school kids. “For tweens, just be present to make sure they’re paying attention to the 12-ton vehicle pulling up,” Bollinger said.
- Step back. Kids should always stand at least six feet back from the curb or roadway where the bus will pull up. Bollinger advised that parents teach their children to take three large steps backward from the curb and wait there.
- Wait and make eye contact. When the bus arrives, children should wait until it comes to a complete stop, the doors open and the driver acknowledges them — “that moment of eye contact,” Bollinger said — before they should move to get on it.
- Light it up. As the days get shorter, many kids will be at their bus stops in the dark. Bollinger recommends that parents wait with their child and have a flashlight. Additionally, put reflective tape on their backpacks.
- Let it go. Make sure your child knows not to retrieve any item they may drop on their way on or off the bus. Instead, teach them to stop and tell the bus driver what’s happened. If it’s too late and the driver is closing the door, step back and wait until the bus has pulled away to get whatever was dropped. “Kids’ impulse is to grab for the item, and that may have a tragic result if the bus driver doesn’t see your child,” Bollinger said.
Rules for walkers
One key lesson that Bollinger and her team want parents to instill in their children who walk to school is never to assume that drivers sees them.
“Drivers are distracted. They’re headed to work. They may be driving their own kids to school and looking in the back seat at their own children sitting there,” Bollinger said. “It only takes a second of distraction for a tragedy to occur. Kids always have to watch for cars.”
Additionally, Bollinger stress that parents review the following rules with their kids:
- Always use the sidewalk. In the absence of sidewalks, walk along the edge of the road facing oncoming traffic.
- Always use the crosswalk. Look left, right and left again.
- Focus on the road. “Put the cell phones away. Distracted walking is a thing,” Bollinger said.
- Use all of your senses. Bollinger advises against using headphone or AirPods while walking to or from school.
- Be seen and be present. Use reflective strips on clothing or backpacks and accompany young children who have to walk to school while it’s still dark out.
Rules for bikers
Bollinger recommends that parents practice the ride to school with their child.
“A few days before school starts, ride along the route they’ll take, at the time of day they’ll be commuting to school,” Bollinger said. “Make sure they’re following the right roads and also obeying all of the rules of a bicyclist.”
Parents may realize that some streets are too busy and can adjust the route accordingly. Additionally, some streets may be hard to cross. Parents should teach their children to hop off their bikes and use the crosswalk.
Bollinger stressed that phones should stay in students’ backpacks until their reach school. “And don’t use AirPods or earbuds,” she said. “You need all of your senses when riding your bike.”
Most importantly, any child who rides a bike — whether to school or just for fun — should always wear a bike helmet.
The teen driver
Parents and kids alike celebrate the freedom that having a driver’s license and car bring. But there are inherent risks with putting an inexperienced driver in a 2,000-pound vehicle. Many of the most seriously injured trauma cases that Bollinger and her team see are from teen drivers.
“Some parents will say, ‘My child is very responsible, so he’ll be fine.’ But responsibility does not equate to experience behind the wheel,” Bollinger said. She offered these tips for parents to keep their teens safe behind the wheel:
- Limit the number of passengers. “A teen driver and a sibling, or a friend, is one thing. But groups of teens don’t always make the safest decisions. They’re distracted by one another in the vehicle,” Bollinger said. To keep the driver focused on driving, limit the distractions.
- Ride with your teen. “If you’re headed to the grocery store, say, ‘Why don’t you drive me?’ Then keep an eye on them to see if there’s any area where you can reinforce some skills,” Bollinger said.
Amy Bollinger is the pediatric trauma and injury prevention program manager at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.