Back to School

Going Back-to-School…Safely!

Another school year is underway, and it’s always a bittersweet time for parents (our precious ones are growing up!). Most of us can easily recall our own days of reading, writing and arithmetic. If, like me, you’ve been around the block once or twice, you probably remember the good times you had walking to school with your siblings and pals.

I find it a little sad that most of our kids won’t have those memories. Forty years ago, nearly half of all kids walked or biked to school compared to only 13 percent today, according to a study published in this month’s Pediatrics. Most get rides in private cars, not school buses. Whether your children walk to school, take a bus or ride in a car, there are some things you should keep in mind about kids and motor vehicle safety.

Accidents don’t just happen on public roads. Driveways, parking lots, school property and garages can be very dangerous. In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 115,000 children age 14 and younger were injured in non-traffic incidents involving vehicles. The most common non-traffic incidents that injure or kill children are “backover” and “frontover” tragedies and then heat stroke.

Be aware of blind zones. If you do drive your child to school, realize that you have a large blind zone when you’re backing out of a driveway or a parking space. Thousands of children are seriously injured or killed every year because a driver simply didn’t see them.  Take a walk all the way around your vehicle before moving it and then go slow and be extra cautious!

When kids are around, always put the cell phone down. Waiting in a car pick-up line or school parking lot is not the time to let your guard down. While you’re texting, a child could walk in front of your car or drop something underneath your vehicle. Don’t count on children to pay attention—that’s your responsibility!

Never let your child walk alone. You and other neighborhood parents might want to think about forming a “walking school bus.” You can take turns collecting the kids on foot and shepherding the whole group to school.  Everyone wins with some good exercise and building fun memories at the same time!

Teach your children these four things:

  • Be aware that just because you can see a vehicle or school bus, that doesn’t mean the driver sees you. Make direct eye contact with the driver before you move so you know they have seen you.
  • Always assume that parked cars might suddenly move—it’s up to you to stay out of the way.
  • Go slowly and look both ways when you’re crossing streets and driveways or getting off a bus.
  • Don’t ever run in school parking lots. It’s always a busy place and drivers simply cannot see you if you dart out between parked vehicles.

Unfortunately, schools don’t have a bubble to protect our children from being injured by a vehicle. For parents and your children, awareness, education and a solid plan about how to behave around those mighty machines are your best defense.

Janette Fennell is president and founder of and is recognized as the national leader for child safety as it relates to the dangers children face in and around motor vehicles.