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In no time at all, your child will be waking up early and heading to school. Whether it is their very first school year or your child is well into their teen years, ask yourself: Who is driving my child to school and will they be safe on the journey?
Though driving can seem routine, car crashes are a leading cause of preventable death for teens and young children. According to Injury Facts, more than 2,000 teens died in crashes in 2016, while more than 700 young children were also killed. The commute to and from school can be one of the most dangerous parts of your child’s day, but there are steps you can take to protect them.
Once you understand the risks, think carefully about the options for getting your child to class and make your decision with safety in mind.
The safest way for your child to get to school is on a school bus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, students are about 70 times more likely to make it to school safely on a bus than if they were to travel by car, and for good reason. Their large size and bright yellow color make them easy for other drivers to spot, and stop-arm laws make the loading and unloading process much safer, even on busy roads. School buses are also specially designed to protect passengers and limit injuries during a crash. In 2016, 119 people died in school bus-related crashes, but only nine of these fatalities were bus riders.
Even with all these safety features, however, there are still tips your child should keep in mind to stay safe on and near buses. Waiting for the bus can be much more dangerous than riding on one, so your child must know to wait in a safe area for the bus to come to a complete stop and always be on the lookout for other vehicles. If you won’t be waiting with your child at the bus stop each day, do it at least once so you can point out safe areas to stand and where to watch for potential hazards. Teach your child to always use seat belts on the bus when they are available.
If you or another adult will be doing the driving, using the correct restraint system for your child is key. According to NHTSA, children age 4 to 7 should ride in a forward-facing car seat until they reach the top height and weight limit of the car seat’s manufacturer. They should then ride in a booster seat until they are big enough to fit into seat belts properly, typically up to age 12. The most important thing to keep in mind with restraint systems is that your child’s size – their height and weight – should be the determining factor, never just their age.
If you are driving, you should also keep in mind your own habits and how they affect your child’s safety. Always avoid distracted, impaired and fatigued driving, and never let the stress of a daily routine lead to a mistake. Create a habit of always checking your child’s restraint system before driving and set a good example you would want your kids to follow. They may not be old enough to drive, but they are still learning from you.
When devising these plans, one thing to keep in mind is that a teen driver should not be taking your child to school. Even if it is more convenient for an older sibling to drop off a younger brother or sister, this should be avoided. Teens’ lack of experience behind the wheel, combined with the added risks of having passengers, makes them too dangerous an option.
The same goes for adults who lack or refuse to use the restraint system your child needs. It doesn’t matter how convenient a ride is; if your child will not be safe you should find a better option.
Though many students walk or bike to class, millions more travel on our roads each day. As parents, we owe it to them to make these trips as safe as possible and these tips are a great way to get started.