Back-to-School Safety Tips for Drivers, Cyclists, and Pedestrians

Two children wait in line to get on a school bus as it stops on a suburban street

Back-to-school season is upon us, which means kids across the South Shore will be commuting to school on foot, on bicycles, and by bus.

With school back in session, we’d like to encourage all drivers to build a few extra minutes into your morning commute, slow down while driving, and heighten your alertness while on the road.

Children are excited and often distracted on their way to or from school, particularly early in the school year.

According to the National Safety Council, most of the children who lose their lives in school bus-related accidents are 4 to 7 years old and are on foot at the time of the accident.

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that between 2011 and 2020, the hours from 7-7:59 AM and 3-3:59 PM (corresponding to the start and end of most school days) were the most dangerous times of day for school-age pedestrians.

With these statistics in mind, we wanted to share some road safety tips that are applicable year-round but are particularly important during back-to-school season.

Back-to-School Safety Tips for Motorists

  • Remember: pedestrians always have the right of way. Stop and yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections. Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians.
  • Don’t block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn, as this forces pedestrians to go around you and potentially into the path of traffic.
  • Adhere to school zone speed limits. When passing through a school zone, be on the lookout for and obey the signals from crossing guards.
  • Always allow greater distance when traveling behind a school bus.
  • Yellow flashing lights indicate that a school bus is preparing to stop and let children on or off. If you see flashing yellow lights, prepare to stop your vehicle. Keep a safe distance between your car and the bus.
  • Red lights accompanied by an extended stop-arm signal indicates a full stop for a school bus to let students on and off the bus. State law requires that motorists stop when the bus stops. When the red lights stop flashing, the stop arm retracts, and the bus begins moving, you can too. This law also applies to motorists traveling in the opposite direction.
  • Be alert for cyclists while on the road, particularly at busy intersections or near school zones.
  • When passing a cyclist, proceed slowly and leave at least three feet between your car and the cyclist.
  • If turning left and a cyclist is approaching from the opposite direction, wait for the cyclist to pass. If turning right and a cyclist is approaching from behind, let the rider pass through the intersection first. Always use your turn signals.
  • When getting out of your car, check your side mirror for oncoming cyclists prior to opening your door.
  • Decrease your speed when traveling through areas with parked cars, as children or cyclists may appear from between cars without warning.
  • Stay alert when in school zones, near playgrounds or parks, and in all residential areas.

Safety Tips and Responsibilities for Pedestrians and Cyclists

A father checks his young son's bike helmet before he goes for a bike ride.
  • Walk on the sidewalk whenever possible. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the edge of the street facing traffic. Pedestrians should walk against traffic. Always look left and right before crossing any street.
  • Cyclists should ride with the flow of traffic and signal all turns. Always wear a helmet and look left and right before crossing any street.
  • Whenever available, use the pedestrian signal when crossing at intersections or use marked crosswalks to cross the street. If a car stops for you to cross, try to make eye contact with the driver before proceeding to ensure they see you.
  • Never play, push, or shove others when walking near traffic.
  • Limit distractions, including cell phones and headphones, while crossing streets.
  • Whenever possible, walk or cycle with a partner or in small groups. If cycling in a group, ride in single file.
  • Never approach a stranger’s car.

Safety Tips for School Drop-Offs and Pick-Ups

Each school will have very specific drop-off and pick-up procedures designed for the safety of all students – follow their procedures closely.

Unless these tips conflict with your school’s guidelines, remember:

  • Don’t double park – it blocks visibility for both pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Avoid dropping off or picking up children on the side of vehicle closest to traffic or across the street from school.
  • Carpool when possible to help reduce the number of vehicles on the road and in the school drop-off and pick-up zones.
  • We know it’s easier said than done – but try to leave enough time to avoid rushing to drop off or pick up your kids. Running late increases the likelihood of speeding and distracted driving.
  • While driving with your children, ensure that you set a good example. Don’t use your cell phone while driving and always follow posted speed limits and traffic signs.

Tips for Dealing with Sun Glare

As we move further into fall and towards winter, our sunrises get later and sunsets get earlier due to fewer hours of daylight.

This means more drivers are on the road around sunrise and sunset, leading to increased danger from sun glare.

Sun glare occurs when the angle of the sun, particularly during the morning or evening hours, creates a strong glare, which can temporarily impair your vision and make it difficult to see cars and pedestrians around you.

In order to limit the effects of sun glare, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Keep your windshield as clean as possible and keep your wiper fluid reservoir filled – sun glare is worse when a windshield is dirty.
  • If possible, wear polarized sunglasses while driving, as they help minimize glare. You can also use your car’s sun visor to block glare.
  • Slow your driving speed during periods of particularly bad sun glare, as visibility will be reduced for all drivers. Allow extra distance between cars and consider driving with your headlights on for added visibility.

Motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents can be prevented if the proper steps are taken.

Have a great fall, a great school year, and be safe!

Sharon Gannon, BSN, RN is South Shore Health’s Trauma Program Injury Prevention Coordinator. Learn more about our Injury Prevention Program.