For kids who are riding their bikes to and from school the best way to keep safe is to wear a bike helmet. Helmets are the number one way to reduced death and injury to children riding bikes. In 2008, 84 children were killed in bicycle related accidents, according to Safe Kids. Also according to Safe Kids, in 2009, 229,811 children were treated in emergency room for bicycle injuries. Wearing a helmet would greatly reduce these numbers. Wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and severe brain injury by 88 percent. Wearing a helmet is an easy inexpensive way to help keep your kids safe while riding their bikes.
There are laws in Louisiana regarding bicyclist wearing helmets. According to Louisiana law R.S. 32:199 any child under 12yrs of age who is riding on a public road, bike trail, or other public right-of-ways must wear a properly fitted and fastened helmet.
There are a few other ways to make sure your child and his bike are ready for the upcoming school year.
- Give the bike a good look over. Make sure the tires are aired up with no leaks and give the nuts and bolts some tightening. Check the tire alignment, the chain and chain guard, reflectors, brakes, peddles, seat, and handle bars. Make all necessary fixes and adjustments before the first ride to school.
- Go over the route you would like your child to take. Go over all bicycle traffic laws and hand signals. Some basic rules to bring up are: always keep your hands on the handle bars, look both ways before crossing the street, walk your bike across a busy intersection or roads, never ride against traffic, and never ride with a passenger on your handle bars.
- Explain to kids the importance of being aware of other bicyclist, cars, pedestrians, and road obstacles. Even cars backing out of drive ways pose a threat to bicyclist.
- If riding at sun up when its still a little dark outside consider buying a reflective jacket or reflective tape for their helmet. This will make them more visible to motorist on the roads.
- Make sure there is no chance for anything to get caught in the wheels or bike chain such as back pack straps, baggy long pants, or shoe laces. Also wearing the right shoes will help reduce the risk of crashing. Don't wear sandals, flip-flops, shoes with heels, cleats or go bare foot. This makes it difficult for you to grip the peddles.
- Don't wear headphones while riding. This makes it difficult to hear traffic, such as a car honking its horn at you.
Nationwide only 13% of kids today are walking to and from school. For children that are walking to school it is important to go over how to be a smart pedestrian. According to Safe Kids, in 2009, an estimated 13,000 children were injured and a total of 244 child pedestrians lost their lives. First things first pick the safest and easiest route to and from school. Walk this route with your child, pointing out possible dangers.
- Make sure your child knows to look both ways for any cars coming before crossing the road and to use cross walks or intersection when available.
- If any streets on your route have traffic lights for pedestrians teach your child to press the button and to ALWAYS wait for the walk sign before crossing the street.
- When crossing the road WALK don't run and continue to look for any cars that may be coming.
- If a car is parked where you are crossing, look to make sure there is no driver and the car is not running. Then go to the edge of the car and look left-right-left to see if any cars are coming before crossing.
- Walk on the sidewalk if there is one. If there isn’t and you have to walk on the road, be sure to walk facing traffic so you can see what’s coming.
- Consider developing a buddy system and walk with a friend(s) or sibling(s) to school. Walking alone makes children a target to predators.
- Explain to your child the importance of staying on this route and not to take short cuts through yards and alley ways or stopping to play with a friend.Tell them how it is important they be on time because if they aren't you will begin to worry or they could possibly be tardy for school.
- Go over stranger danger with your child. Remember to tell them to never ever except a ride from someone you haven't OKed. Ask them to be aware of people around them and to report anyone who looks suspicious to you, another trusted adult, or the police.
- If your child will be staying home alone have your child call you after they arrive home. Make sure they know important phone numbers in case of an emergency on their way to or from school.
Many children ride a big yellow school bus to and from school. Many parents question the safety of school buses, due to their lack of seat belts. But the fact is statically school buses are the safest way for children to go to and from school. Only 1% of students are killed in bus crashes. 58% are killed in vehicles driven by teens and 23% are killed in vehicles driven by adults.What many people don't understand is that school buses have their own safety system in place. Buses are large and heavy and distribute crash forces differently and safer than family vehicles. Passengers absorb far less crash forces in a bus. Buses also use what is know as compartmentalization to protect passengers in a crash. Compartmentalization is similar to eggs in a carton. Buses have closely spaced seats and high seat backs that are steel reinforced and have energy absorbing padding. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) compartmentalization has been successful in preventing death and injury to many children is bus crashes. When looking at the statistics and what we know about school buses we see that they are a very safe mode of transportation for children.
A lot of people still do question if school buses could be safer if seat belts were added. Is compartmentalization enough? Some argue that it is not. Even NHTSA has admitted that compartmentalization is incomplete and does not protect passengers during lateral impacts with vehicles of large mass, in rollovers and from ejection. The state of Louisiana is actually one of six states that have a law requiring seat belts on buses. But there is a contingency to this law regarding funding. Due to lack of funding seat belts have still not been added to large school buses. There is also some question as to whether compartmentalization works well for smaller children. Many kids who ride the bus to preschool or a head start program do have seat belts on the buses. They are smaller buses that do require 3 point seat belts or lap belts due to the crash forces being similar to larger family vehicles. Many of these school buses even have the ability to install child restraints on the bus. You can read more about child restraints on buses here.
Both sides have compelling arguments. Many feel that the addition of seat belts would increase the number of children who would not use seat belts, even in their family vehicle. They feel that there is no way the bus driver could make sure every child is buckled up correctly. There for an aid would be required on large buses. Which adds to funding issues to our already spread thin education funding. Either way you look at it crashes involving school buses are rare with sever injury and death being very rare.
There are still some dangers and safety tips that should be considered when riding a school bus. According to NHTSA "since 2000, 130 school-age pedestrians (younger than 19) have died in school transportation-related crashes. Over two-thirds (67%) were struck by school buses, 6 percent by vehicles functioning as school buses, and 27 percent by other vehicles involved in the crashes. There were 56 (43%) school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes between the ages of 5 and 7." The greatest risk your child has of riding a school bus is getting on and off the bus.
When getting on the bus:
- Calmly wait for the bus at the designated bus stop. No running around and playing around at the bus stop.
- Patiently wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before approaching the bus. Stand back away from the bus until the bus has come to a complete stop, the driver has opened the door, and is signalling its time to get on the bus.
- Stay back from the buses wheels and sides where you might not be seen by the driver of the bus.
- Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before standing up to exit the bus
- When crossing the street always cross in front of the bus. NEVER cross behind the bus.
- When crossing in front of the bus make eye contact with the bus driver and wait for a signal that it is OK for you to cross in front of the bus.
- Before crossing the other lane of traffic look both ways for any cars
- Never stand up while the bus is in motion
- Sit no more than 3 small children to a seat; no more than 2 big children to a seat
- Keep hands, head, feet and body in the seat. Any one hanging out of the seat may not be appropriatly protected by the compartmentalization.
- Sit with your bottom on the seat, facing forward, and feet on the ground (or dangling toward the ground)
- Keep aisles clear of back packs and other possessions.
- Be aware of the exits and listen to the bus drivers instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency
- Overtaking and passing school buses
- Cellular radio telecommunication device use by operators of school buses prohibited; penalties
- Special lighting equipment on school buses
- School bus body, hood, bumpers; color of paint; back-up audible alarms
- Prohibiting standing of school children under certain circumstances; limiting number of children transported at one time
- School zones; no passing zones
Car pooling is a common practice done today when transporting children to school. With gas prices being so high parents who do not have the option of buses or living close enough to school for children to bike or walk to school are looking for a way to still get their children to school without spending a fortune. Car pooling is a great option but it does have its own seat of safety issues.
Studies have shown that children who are car pooling are most likely not properly restrained. This is a growing problem. It is important that whomever you are car pooling with understands the importance of properly restraining all children in the car. You can help this by:
- Offering to provide a seat for their vehicle and teach them how to properly install and use the seat.
- Explain to them that if for any reason they do not have the seat to pick up your child to please call you so you can make other arrangements.
- Make it very clear to all drivers that your child is to always ride in their seat no matter what.
- Talk with your child and explain to them the importance of riding in their seat. Sometimes kids can be cruel and make comments on how they are riding in a "baby" seat. Explaining to your child that the seat isn't a "baby" seat and the importance of the seat can give your child confidence in riding in their seat.
- Make sure that all children in your vehicle are properly restrained. Be prepared to say no if there aren't enough seats or a parent cant provide the correct seat.
- Make sure that all children hear and understand your vehicle rules while driving. Children can be a big distraction to drivers. Have them understand that they are to remain seated and buckled the whole ride, no throwing toys or other things in the car, and to keep hands to themselves. Don't try to deal with any behavior issues while driving, pull over and deal with them then.
- If you are uncomfortable with a car pooling situation be willing to talk with the other drivers or to make different arrangements
Another problem parents, especially those new to school, are worried about is the car pick up lane. Talk to the school before the first day of school about their car pick up lane policies. Explain to them that you may need to get out and make sure your child is properly buckled or that it may take a few more seconds for you child to buckle before you are willing to drive off. Tell them the importance of this issue and that you are just trying to insure that your child is safe. Most schools are more than willing to work with parents. If the school has a problem with this ask them if there is another option in picking your child up as you are not willing to put your child's life in jeopardy. Bring them the recommendations from NHTSA and the AAP on car seat safety to prove your point. Stand your ground and they will likely work with you on the situation eventually.
Proper Child Restraint Use
- Children should remain rear facing until they are at least 2yrs of age. It is best to keep them rear facing until they have outgrown their rear facing convertible seat (read more here). This could be until as old as 4yrs of age.
- Children who are at least 2yrs old or children who have outgrown their rear facing convertible seat should be in a forward facing car seat until they are at least 4yrs old and 40lbs. It is best to keep children harnessed until they are mature enough to sit in a booster (read more here). Children are normally mature enough around 5-8yrs old.
- Children who are at least 4yrs old and 40lbs or children who have outgrown their forward facing convertible seat who are mature enough should ride in a booster (read more here). Children should remain in a booster till they fit correctly in the vehicle seat belt. This is normally around 4ft 9in, the average height of an 11yr old.
- Children should remain in the back seat until they are 13yrs of age.