Back to school: What drivers, kids need to look out for

  • Published
  • By Steve Elliott
  • 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

As Texas children head back to school, people need to be extra cautious in school zones and around school buses to help keep kids safe. School zones can be chaotic places, with children possibly dashing in and out of traffic, and unfortunately, crashes and accidents can and do happen.

Back-to-school safety isn’t just for kids and their parents; it affects everyone in the community.

“Going back to school is an exciting time for students, parents and staff, but it is paramount that drivers are more alert when around buses and schools,” said Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw. “I urge everyone on the road to be proactive and help ensure children arrive to and from school safely each and every day.”

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 746 traffic crashes in Texas school zones in 2022, resulting in 23 serious injuries. The most common causes were driver inattention, speeding, and failure to yield the right of way.

There were also seven people killed and 51 seriously injured last year in the 2,305 crashes involving a Texas school bus. Driver inattention and speed were also the top factors in those crashes.

Parents should do everything they can to provide children with a safe way to school, according to 502nd Security Forces Group officials.

“Keeping all students safe is the primary concern for everyone, but there are special steps for parents of younger children, especially younger children who are attending school for the first time,” said John Darrah, 502nd SFG current operations manager.

Tips for driving in school zones:

  • Be aware that traffic patterns around school zones may have changed since the last school year.
  • Stay alert and put your phone away. Using a handheld electronic device while driving in an active school zone is against the law. Fines range from $200 to $500.
  • Stop and yield to people in crosswalks. Don’t block crosswalks.
  • Always obey school zone speed limit signs. Remember, traffic fines increase in school zones.
  • Drop off and pick up your children in your school’s designated areas, not the middle of the street.
  • Don’t double park; it blocks visibility for other children and vehicles.
  • Keep an eye on children gathered at bus stops.
  • Never pass a bus loading or unloading children.
  • Make eye contact with children who are crossing the street.
  • The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to allow them to safely enter and exit the bus.
  • Watch for children who might dart across the street or between vehicles.
  • Texas law states drivers must stop when a school bus extends its stop sign or turns on its flashing red lights. Some school districts have cameras on bus stop arms to enforce the law.
  • Yellow flashing lights on a school bus mean slow down — don’t speed up — because the bus is preparing to stop. There are likely students waiting to get on the bus or parents waiting nearby to pick up children.
  • Red flashing lights mean stop — and wait at least 20 feet behind the bus — because children are getting on or off the school bus. Stay stopped until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving.
  • Violations can lead to a fine of up to $1,250 or more for a first offense. For people convicted of the offense more than once, the law allows for the person’s driver's license to be suspended for up to six months. Unlike other traffic tickets, it can't be taken away with defensive driving classes. Criminal charges are possible if a driver causes someone serious bodily injury. In addition, your insurance rates will go up.
  • Even when lights aren’t flashing, watch for children, particularly in the morning or mid-afternoon, around school arrival and dismissal times. Be alert as you back out of a driveway, or drive through a neighborhood, school zone or bus stop.

Tips for children walking or biking to school:

  • Use sidewalks. If there’s not a sidewalk, walk on the left side of the street facing traffic.
  • Cross the street at intersections or marked crosswalks. Look left, right, and left again before proceeding.
  • Always obey crossing guards.
  • Make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street. Never assume a driver sees you.
  • Look for traffic when stepping off a bus or from behind parked vehicles.
  • Always wear a correctly fitted helmet and securely fasten the chin strap when riding a bicycle, no matter how long or short the ride is.
  • Ride on the right side of the road, with traffic, and in a single file.
  • Use appropriate hand signals when riding a bicycle, and respect traffic lights and stop signs
  • Don’t be distracted by electronic devices that take your eyes and ears off the road.
  • Follow all traffic rules, signs and signals.

Tips for children taking a bus to school:

  • Try to get to the bus stop at least five minutes early. This will prevent children from needing to rush across streets to catch the bus.
  • Respect your school bus driver and sit still so the driver can pay attention to the road.
  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb. Kids should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.
  • Make sure your child walks where they can see the bus driver (which means the driver will be able to see them, too).
  • If the school bus has lap/shoulder seat belts, make sure your child always uses one when on the bus.
  • Wait for the bus to stop completely before standing.
  • Remind your student to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street just in case somebody does not stop as required. Encourage your child to practice how to cross the street several times before the first day of school.
  • If your child drops something near the bus, do not attempt to retrieve it. Instead, tell them to alert the bus driver so he or she may help them.
  • Check on the school's policy regarding food on the bus. Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with allergies and lead to infestations of insects and vermin in vehicles.
  • If your child has a chronic condition that could result in an emergency on the bus, make sure you work with the school nurse or other school health personnel to have a bus emergency plan. If possible, do this before the first day of class.
  • If your child walks home from the bus stop, tell them not to accept rides from or even speak to any strangers. Even if it seems like the stranger needs help, inform them you are not allowed to talk to strangers, get home, and call your parent immediately.

“Please ensure your children know their phone number, home address, how to contact their parents at work or a relative/trusted adult, and how to call 911 in case of an emergency,” Darrah said. “An excellent example of this would be to provide them with a laminated safety card that they keep on their person or in their backpack at all times and is easily accessible and readily available.”

The most important thing for parents driving their children to school is to have patience, as it’s the lack of patience that causes accidents. Along with having patience, parents need to have awareness of the drop-off points, entrances and exits set by the school.

The way parents go about starting the school year has a big impact on how smoothly the transition from a summer-to-school mindset plays out.

(Sources: Red Cross, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Safety Council, National Highway Safety Administration, American Academy of Pediatrics. American Safety Council, Texas Department of Public Safety, Air Force Safety Center)