This month Southern California students are returning to classes on foot, bicycles, as well as in cars and school buses. To prevent traffic-related injuries and fatalities to students this school year, the Automobile Club of Southern California reminds drivers to slow down and stay alert in school zones and in other areas where children might be present. Crashes are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents. The problem escalates during the months kids are in school, and the afternoon school hours are particularly dangerous. Nearly one-third of child pedestrian fatalities occur between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Kids are particularly vulnerable because they are small and less visible to drivers, are not always able to make sound and safe decisions near streets and can be easily distracted when around other kids. Children are not adults, so it is up to drivers to compensate for these differences. AAA’s School’s Open – Drive Carefully! awareness campaign began in 1946 to help reduce child pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Today, this effort is more important than ever due to the prevalence of drivers with smartphones and the increase in distracted driving on our roads.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,138 people died in distracted-related crashes in the U.S. in 2020, accounting for 8.1% of all roadway fatalities. That’s an average of 9 people killed each day in crashes that are totally preventable. Additionally, another 400,000 people are injured each year in distracted-related crashes. However, the true numbers of deaths and injuries are likely much higher because distracted driving is often underreported or difficult to determine as the cause of a crash.
Distracted driving is especially dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. Non-drivers account for nearly one in five distracted driving deaths. Nationally in 2020, there were 480 pedestrians, 83 bicyclists and 14 other non-occupants killed in crashes that involved a driver who was reported to be distracted. It is unknown how many of these pedestrians, cyclists and other non-occupants were also distracted at the time.
“School-aged children will soon be going to and from campuses, so drivers should prepare for them,” said Auto Club Corporate Communications & Programs Manager Doug Shupe. “If you drive distracted you are “intexticated” behind the wheel, and you could cause the same tragedies as a driver who is impaired by alcohol or drugs. So, make it a habit to put smartphones out of sight and stay alert on the road, especially in school zones, in neighborhoods, around parks, and near bus stops,” said Shupe.
To keep kids safe this school year the Auto Club reminds drivers to:
- Eliminate distractions and put down the cell phone. Children often cross the road unexpectedly and may emerge suddenly between parked cars. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing.
- Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster. A difference between 25 mph and 35 mph can save a life.
- Talk with teens. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and more than one-quarter of fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during after-school hours.
- Come to a complete stop. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or on neighborhood streets. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before continuing.
- Watch for bicycles. Children on bikes can be inexperienced, unsteady, and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and the bicycle. If your child rides a bicycle to school, require that they wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet on every ride.
- Watch for school buses. Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Drivers should slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off. Drivers MUST stop and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm withdraws, and the bus begins to move before they can start driving again.
Parents and guardians are also key to keeping children safe during the trip to and from school. Adults should walk with children to familiarize them with the route to school and point out potential traffic hazards.
Students walking to and from school should:
- Wait until you get to your destination before calling people, texting or gaming. If you must text or make a call while walking, stop and find a safe location.
- Avoid using hands-free devices while walking – Hang up and walk!
- Remove your headphones or turn down the volume of your music so you can hear what’s going on around you.
- Watch out for cars while crossing the street. There are a lot of distracted drivers out there so look all around you while in and around crosswalks.
- Be a role model – pay attention while you walk and if you see your friends and family distracted while they walk – speak up.
For more information about the Auto Club’s traffic safety initiative, “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated,” visit aaa.com/dontdrivedistracted to read real stories of lives impacted by distracted driving, watch PSAs, and view a new distracted driving documentary called “Sidetracked.”