Getting To and From School Safely
Easy ways to ensure your child is safe.
By: Brandie Weikle
With a new school year about to start, parents often contemplate changing their child’s get-to-school routine. Will you drive her? Is she ready to walk on her own?
While pondering those questions, it’s important to note that the real risks to a child’s well being may not be the ones parents worry about most. Though the fear of child predators ranks high on every parents’ list of fears, children are actually at a five times great risk of dying from unintentional incident than from a violent act committed against them, says Shawna DiFilippo, program coordinator for Toronto, Ontario-based Safe Kids Canada. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of American children ages four to 14. Still, there are plenty of things parents can do to help keep kids safe on the way to school. Here are a few:
If she’s on foot…
Kids under nine should be accompanied by an adult on the walk to school. Before nine, even the brightest children “are likely to over-estimate their own speed and how much time they have to cross the road,” says DiFilippo. If you feel your child is ready, pick out a safe route and walk it with her to identify risks and ensure she understands traffic rules.
Buffalo, New York police officer Kim Beatty, who’s an administrator for Operation Safe Child and the mother of a 10-year-old girl, advises students to travel with a buddy whenever possible. Should someone try to coerce them into a vehicle, kids should know to run in the opposite direction the car is facing, yell for help, seek safety in a store or other building, and to fight back if necessary. She suggests parents establish a secret code word with their child, which any adult authorized to retrieve them from school would know.
If she’s on a bike…
It’s best to wait until your kid’s around 10 before letting her ride to school on her own. Of course, if you’re able to bike with your child you’ll be able to make those important safety judgments for her. Either way, she should always wear a properly fitting bike helmet that meets either Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or Canadian Standards Association (CSA) requirements. The front should rest two fingers above the eyebrows, the straps should make V shapes around each ear, and there should only be one finger of slack between the strap and chin.
If she’s on the school bus…
“Statistics show that the school bus is the safest form of transportation, safer than a parent’s own vehicle,” says John Fahey, assistant superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools. Even though most do not have seat belts, school buses are designed to do a very good job of keeping kids in their seats in the event of an accident. But the area outside the school bus is where most of the relatively rare school bus-related injuries occur. Kids should know to stand well back as the bus approaches, get on it quickly and move away quickly when getting off. “We always teach kids the ‘I see you, you see me,’ rule,” says Fahey. In other words, advise your child to make eye contact with the bus driver and with the drivers of other cars in the vicinity to make sure they’re seen.
If she’s in the car…
While laws vary depending on your jurisdiction, kids should be in car seats until about age four or five and use booster seats until around nine, or when they’re approximately four feet, nine inches tall. Older kids must be in seat belts. And of course, parents should watch their speed, no ma