Drivers go back to school for safety

Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Special to Valley News

When I was younger I hated all the back-to-school commercials. They were a dreaded reminder that summer was over and pretty soon I’d be back inside a hot, stuffy classroom, mourning my lost freedom.

As an adult, the back-to-school season brings another warning. Our morning and afternoon commutes will now involve throngs of students walking, bicycling, driving or riding buses to and from school. We were all kids once, so we know we can’t count on them to be paying attention. That’s why it’s important to use extra caution while driving in school zones.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 75 school-age pedestrians are killed each year during school travel. These are preventable deaths. Let’s share some lessons and start a safety campaign in the communities we protect with these safety reminders.

It is illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children.

School buses use yellow flashing lights to alert motorists that they are preparing to stop to load or unload children. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm signals to motorists that the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off the bus.

The area 10 feet around a school bus is where children are in the most danger of being hit. Stop your car far enough from the bus to allow children the necessary space to safely enter and exit the bus.

Be alert. Children walking to or from their bus are usually very comfortable with their surroundings. It makes them more likely to take risks, ignore hazards or fail to look both ways when crossing the street.

Drivers should not block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn. Do not stop with a portion of your vehicle over the crosswalk.

In a school zone when a warning flasher or flashers are blinking, you must stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.

Remember that children are the least predictable pedestrians and the most difficult to see. Take extra care to look out for children not only in school zones, but also in residential areas, playgrounds and parks.

Don’t honk your horn, rev your engine or do anything to rush or to scare a pedestrian in front of your car, even if you have the legal right-of-way.

Now that’s just the first lesson. There’s much more schooling on safety if you’re interested. Check out www.nsc.org/Safety_Home/SafetyObservances/Pages/BackToSchoolSafety.aspx or www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/safety-advisory-students-and-motorists-reminded-be-safety-conscious-and-around-school for more.

Sam Digiovanna is the Fire Chief at Verdugo Fire Academy in Long Beach, California.

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