Back-to-School Safety: How Pedestrians, Bikes, Cars, and Buses Can Share the Road
As the school year begins, over a million children will take to Wisconsin roadways to make the daily journey to school. Many children ride the bus, a bicycle, or walk to school, which can pose a danger to their safety. Pedestrian injury is the fifth-leading cause of death for children between 5 and 19 in the U.S.
Wisconsin’s 15,000 school buses transport more than 600,000 children almost 70 million miles annually during the school year. Drivers must help protect children by knowing how to drive around school buses in school zones and near bus stops and playgrounds.
Our blogs covers helpful back-to-school safety tips for pedestrians, bikes, cars, and buses to make our cities safer for students returning to school.
Wisconsin right-of-way laws assign specific duties to road users to help prevent accidents and fatalities.
Drivers must stop at least 20 feet from any school bus with flashing red lights or an extended stop arm to avoid striking children crossing the street. This action allows the children to enter or exit the bus safely. If you pass a bus with yellow lights, proceed cautiously.
Teach your children the proper safety procedures for taking the bus. These include staying five steps away from the roadway while waiting, then waiting for the driver’s signal to board, and facing forward in their seats while riding.
Children walking to school should always use available sidewalks and avoid darting in front of traffic. When no sidewalk is available, they should walk on the left side of the road to see approaching traffic better. They must also yield to traffic if there is no crosswalk or traffic control signal.
Children under nine almost always lack the judgment needed to assess traffic properly. Their smaller size also makes it harder for drivers to see them. These factors mean that parents must teach their children about traffic safety and supervise them until they can accurately assess traffic risks.
Wisconsin law considers bicycles as vehicles, and school-aged riders must follow traffic signs and signals, maintain their lanes, and signal their intentions. Dedicated bike lanes also help keep children safe.
Cyclists should ride at least three feet from the curb or parked cars to avoid debris and people opening car doors. Cyclists should ride in the middle of narrow lanes and to the right of traffic flow on wide streets when bike lanes aren’t available.
Teach your children to ride straight and show drivers where they are going using hand signals. If your child rides a bike to school, ensure they know the required hand signals for Wisconsin bikers, including stopping, slowing down, left and right-hand turns, and U-turns.
Illegally passing a school bus with red flashing lights or extended stop arm results in a fine for motorists. If the bus driver reports the incident within 24 hours, police officers don’t even have to have witnessed the event for a driver to receive a ticket.
Drivers must yield to children entering an alley or driveway or crossing a sidewalk. They must also give the right-of-way to school-goers in a crosswalk or who have entered the roadway following a walk traffic signal.
Drivers often miss seeing child riders in the visual noise of the street. Left-turning drivers hit more bikes than in any other driving situation. When turning, motorists should always scan traffic, crosswalks, and sidewalks for cyclists and pedestrians.
To help get the school year off to a great start, teach your children the following safety tips.
- Look left, right, and left again before crossing any street, even at crosswalks and stoplights.
- Make eye contact with drivers so you know they see you.
- Always use a sidewalk when available or a bike lane for cyclists.
- If you have to walk on the street, walk on the left side. This allows you to see traffic coming and get out of the way if needed.
- To avoid falling, never run across the street.
- Walk with other kids as part of a group when possible.
- Use the same route daily so you don’t get lost and your parents know where to find you.
- Remove any headphones or earbuds when crossing the street so you can remain aware of your surroundings.
Parents should evaluate their children’s abilities to assess traffic risks and exercise good judgment before letting them walk or bike to school alone. Remember that this is a developmental milestone and may be challenging for some children to learn before they are mentally ready.
School zones in Wisconsin have a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit for two reasons. First, the slower speed allows drivers more time to react to a child darting into traffic. Second, if an accident does occur, the slower rate can reduce the severity of a child’s injuries.
Always follow the speed limit in school zones when children are nearby or when children may be nearby, such as immediately before, during, and after school hours. Additionally, drivers should avoid distractions, such as phone calls, drinking, or eating breakfast or a snack when driving through school zones. The more attention drivers pay to their surroundings, the less likely a child will be hit.
If your child can’t yet evaluate risk accurately, you or an older sibling can walk them to school. Keep them on the side of the sidewalk away from the street.
Teach your child to always use the crosswalk and never enter the roadway without a walk signal. Also, instruct them to avoid playing while walking to prevent accidentally entering the street with no warning.
If your child suffers an injury in a pedestrian accident on their way to or from school, contact a Fox Cities pedestrian accident lawyer to schedule a free consultation. We can help you recover damages for injuries caused by negligence and hold the irresponsible driver responsible for their actions.