Back to school safety tips for drivers & pedestrians

As children head back to school, AAA is encouraging motorists to pay extra attention behind the wheel. Back-to-school time means  more pedestrians and bicyclists around schools, and that traffic can lead to tragedy. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 20 percent of all 2016 traffic fatalities in the 0-14 age group were pedestrians. Older kids are at even more risk: While making up only about a quarter of all kids age 0-19, they accounted for more than half of all child pedestrian fatalities.1

With that in mind, AAA urges motorists and pedestrians to follow simple steps to help make back-to-school season safer for everyone.

Tips for parents of child pedestrians

Show younger kids how it's done by always crossing with them

Preschoolers should never cross the street alone. Parents should always hold their hand, and teach them to seek out a trusted adult or older sibling if a parent isn't around. Teach your child how to cross the street by role-modeling NHTSA's guidelines with them:

  • Cross at a corner or crosswalk with the walk signal.
  • Stop at the curb.
  • Look left-right-left for traffic in all directions. Explain you're looking for either no traffic or that traffic has stopped for you to cross safely. 
  • Hold your child’s hand. 
  • Cross when it's clear.
  • Keep looking for cars as you cross. 
Little boys cross the street holding their mother's hands

Teach children to be cautious, even with the right of way

When kids begin to cross the street on their own (usually in elementary school), they may have mastered the basics, but may not be savvy to the nuances, such as:

  • A green light or walk signal does not guarantee it is safe to cross, only that you have the right to cross. For example, cars making a right turn at a red light might enter the crosswalk. You still must look left-right-left and ensure it is safe.
  • Stopped cars can move suddenly. Make eye contact with the driver before stepping in front of or behind a running vehicle, to ensure they know you're there. 
  • Drivers can't see everything, and cars take time to stop. Never, ever walk into the street without looking first.
A street crossing sign displays the white "Walk" symbol

Stress to older kids that distracted walking isn't safe

Since 1995, the pedestrian fatality rate for kids 12-19 has only dropped 37 percent overall; it actually increased between 2013 and 2016. Contrast that with a 74 percent drop since 1995 for children 11 and younger.2

 

One likely factor is the proliferation of smartphones and headphones. A 2016 observational study by the nonprofit group Safe Kids Worldwide found that 1 in 4 high school students and 1 in 6 middle school students were distracted by headphones, a smartphone, or both while crossing the street, an increase from their 2013 study. Parents should emphasize that crossing the street requires the full use of one's eyes and ears.

Teen walking on sidewalk distracted by phone and headphones
 

Put down your phone. Lives depend on it.

With the hustle and bustle of starting a new school year, you may not think twice about checking a text message on your way to drop the kids off at school. Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds, however, doubles your chance of being involved in a crash. See the facts and explore our tips to combat this dangerous habit.

 
Tips for motorists in school zones

Drive distraction-free

Distracted driving is always potentially disastrous, but it's especially dangerous near schools. Children may chase a ball into the street or dart out from between parked cars (which is especially dangerous with elementary-age kids, who are shorter and thus harder to spot behind obstacles). Adults crossing the street might be savvy enough to notice a distracted driver, but children often don't realize that a car won't stop for them if the driver isn't paying attention.
A little boy looks out from between two parked cars before crossing the street

Observe school-zone speed limits & bus etiquette

Drivers should always drive slowly in and around school areas. Some school zones have posted speed limits as low as 15 mph, but even if there are no signs, motorists should go no faster than 25 mph, leaving more time to react and reducing the risk of death or injury if a pedestrian is hit. 

 

Rules vary by state, but in almost all cases, drivers are required to stop and wait for a school bus if it is flashing red lights, indicating that children are getting on or off. The bus may have a deployable stop sign, but that doesn't mean it's enough to simply come to a stop before passing. Drivers must wait for as long as the lights are flashing.

A schoolbus at the side of the road with its stop sign extended

Find a safe spot to drop off & pick up your student

If you're driving your child to school, plan ahead about where you're dropping them off. Don't do it where they'll have to cross the street. If the drop-off spot is crowded, never have them jump out into traffic, even if it appears to be stopped. 

 

Likewise, when picking up, don't double-park and force your child to navigate a line of arriving and departing cars to get to you, or park across the street and make them cross without your assistance. If you are helping them cross the street, find a space to park legally; leaving a double-parked car unattended is always unsafe and almost always illegal. 

A little girl is dropped off at school as her dad waves from the car
 
back to school

School’s Open—Drive Carefully

Over the last decade, more than a quarter of child pedestrian injuries and fatalities in the U.S. have occurred between 3 and 7 p.m. The Auto Club offers educational resources to help reduce child and pedestrian fatalities.

 

1 "Traffic Safety Facts, 2016 Data," National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, March 2018. (https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812493)

 

"Alarming Dangers in School Zones," Safe Kids Worldwide, October 2016. (https://www.safekids.org/sites/default/files/alarming_dangers_in_school_zones.pdf)

 

Safe street crossing information sourced from "Prevent Pedestrian Crashes: Parents and Caregivers of Elementary School Children," National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, October 2008. (https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/811027.pdf