This week, the collective groans we'll hear across the Mohawk Valley are from children returning to school. Those cheers you'll hear will come from their parents.
Back to school means school buses are back on the road, and many children will be on the roadways and sidewalks hoofing it to their places of learning. With schools back in session this week, it's important for motorists to use extra caution while they're out and about for the next several months. It's also important for youngsters to watch out for drivers who may not being paying attention.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for 23 million children, their school day starts and stops on a school bus. According to the NHTSA, the greatest risk for kids isn't riding the bus, but approaching or leaving it. The federal agency offers the following suggestions for drivers:
When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in neighborhood. Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street with out looking for traffic.
Learn and obey the school bus laws in your state. Learn the "flashing signal light system" that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions: yellow lights mean the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children; red lights and extended stop arms indicate that children are getting on or off. Motorists have to wait until the red lights are off, the stop sign is withdrawn, and bus begins moving before they can resume their trip.
Young people should follow these NHTSA guidelines:
Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
When the bus approaches, stand at least three giant steps (6 feet) away from the curb, and line up away from the street.
Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says that it's OK before stepping onto the bus.
If a student has to cross the street in front of the bus, youths should walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus before they cross. Youngsters should be sure that the bus driver can see them, and they can see the bus driver.
Use the handrails to avoids falls. When exiting the bus, be careful that clothing with drawstrings, and book bags with straps don't get caught in the handrails or doors.
Never walk behind the bus.
Walk at least three giant steps away from the side of the bus.
If something is dropped near the bus, tell the driver, because he or she may not be able to see the student.
Most of these guidelines are common sense when it comes to school bus safety, but we'll never cease to be amazed by the number of motorists and pedestrians who can never seem to figure them out. We encourage people to exercise caution this school year and do what they can to prevent something awful from happening to our children.