Traveling to and from school

As the new school year begins, one of the most important things to focus on is how your child will get to and from school. Sadly, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for children over 3-years of age — whether they walk, cycle or ride to school. Children are at high risk because of their size, their easy distractibility and their lack of judgment in traffic situations. Here are some safety tips to help minimize the risk to your child.

Walking to school

• Make sure your child takes a safe route to school, preferably with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection.

• Be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision.

• If your children are young or are walking to a new school, walk with them the first week to make sure they know the route and can do it safely.

• Bright-colored clothing will make your child more visible to drivers.

• In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider starting a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.

Riding a bike

• Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.

• Ride on the right side of the street, in the same direction as auto traffic.

• Use appropriate hand signals.

• Respect traffic lights and stop signs.

• Wear bright-color clothing to increase visibility.

• Know the “rules of the road.” You can find them at www.aap.org/family/bicycle.htm

On the school bus

• If your child’s school bus has seat belts, make sure your child uses them.

• If your child’s school bus does not have seat belts, encourage the school to buy or lease buses with that do.

• Wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.

• Do not walk around on the bus while it is in motion.

• After getting off the bus, check to see that no traffic is coming before crossing the street.

• Always remain in clear view of the bus driver.

• Children should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.

In the car

• All passengers should wear a seat belt or use an age- and size-appropriate car safety seat.

• Your child should ride in a car safety seat with a harness as long as possible and then ride in a belt-positioning booster seat. Your child is ready for a booster seat when she has reached the top weight or height allowed for her seat, his shoulders are above the top harness slots, or her ears have reached the top of the seat.

• Your child should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s seat belt fits properly (usually when the child reaches about 4’ 9” in height and is between 8- to 12-years of age). This means that the child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle seat back with his legs bent at the knees and feet hanging down and the shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat; the lap belt is low and snug across the thighs, and not the stomach. • All children under 13-years of age should ride in the rear seat of vehicles. If you must drive more children than can fit in the rear seat (when carpooling, for example), move the front-seat passenger’s seat as far back as possible and have the child ride in a booster seat if the seat belts do not fit properly without it.

• Remember that many crashes occur while teen drivers are going to and from school. You should require seat belt use, limit the number of teen passengers, do not allow eating, drinking, cellphone conversations or texting to prevent driver distraction; and limit nighttime driving and driving in inclement weather. Familiarize yourself with your state’s graduated driver license law and consider the use of a parent-teen driver agreement to facilitate the early driving learning process. For a sample parent-teen driver agreement, see the last two pages of the AAP Policy Statement, “The Teen Driver.”

© 2009 — American Academy of Pediatrics