School’s open: Drive carefully

With children now back to school, safety is of prime concern, and it depends upon everyone in the community to keep Valley children safe.

Drivers are reminded to pay special attention in morning and afternoon hours, when children are entering and leaving school buildings, and when they are walking along roadways on the way to and from school.

Children are out waiting for buses throughout the morning and afternoon, depending on the town and school. In the Valley there are six public elementary schools, three middle schools and four high schools, in addition to numerous private schools.

With the various start and end times, local motorists should expect to see children heading to school from about 7 a.m. until 9 a.m., and then making the trek home between about 2 and 4 p.m. Those are the key times of the day, therefore, when motorists have to be extra observant.

The Automobile Association of America advises people to drive with headlights on during the day (children are more likely to see your car), to scan between parked cars for children who might dart out into the road, and always to stop at least a car length away from school buses when they drop off or pick up children.

The agency also advises motorists to drive slowly in residential areas and near schools.

In its annual “School’s Open - Drive Carefully” campaign, AAA reminds motorists that careful driving begins even before they leave their driveways. More important, motorists should expect the unexpected as kids walk, bike, rollerblade or skateboard to school.

According to AAA officials, it’s difficult for children to judge traffic situations because their peripheral vision is much narrower than that of an adult’s; and kids assume if they can see a car, the driver can see them — which isn’t necessarily the case.

Motorists are reminded to stop when they see a school bus with its stop arm extended. School buses are now equipped with cameras, which will let police know if motorists have passed them illegally. There is a hefty fine for motorists who pass school buses. So, for safety and financial reasons, drivers need to heed the law and not pass stopped buses.

A lesser risk for young children, but a common one, is getting on and off a school bus.

The National Safety Council advises parents to be sure their children wait for the bus away from traffic and the street, to stay away from the bus until it has come to a complete stop and the driver signals the child to enter, to walk at least 10 feet away from the bus immediately after getting off, and always be aware of all traffic on the road in case drivers fail to obey school bus traffic laws.