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School's Open - Drive Carefully!

By Lisa Hartley

In the frenzy of back-to-school this fall, AAA Minneapolis reminds drivers to slow down and take extra care in school zones and neighborhoods where school-aged children are soon to reappear.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that, on average, one pedestrian is killed in the United States every two hours. For children 14 years of age and younger, motor vehicle crashes remain the number one cause of death, and one-fifth of these victims are pedestrians. The start of a new school year always necessitates this reminder for particular care behind the wheel as both drivers and children have become accustomed to lighter motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic during the summer months.

Children are particularly vulnerable as pedestrians because they are less able to accurately judge the speed and distance of approaching traffic than are adults. Therefore, drivers should be especially diligent in areas where children are likely to be, such as school zones, parks and playgrounds, bus stops, and neighborhoods. Other dangerous situations for children include areas with heavy traffic, on-street vehicle parking, higher speed limits, and few pedestrian-control devices.

Tips for drivers
The following tips provide further advice to help keep children safe during the start of the school year... and always:

• Studies show that more than one-third of motorists in school zones or neighborhoods just "roll through" intersections with a stop sign. Slow down near school and residential areas, and be sure to come to a complete stop at all intersections.
• Look for clues such as AAA School Safety Patrol members, crossing guards, bicycles, and playgrounds, which indicate children could be in the area.
• Pay particular attention near schools during the morning and afternoon hours.
• Always stop for school buses that are loading and unloading students. Remember that when a bus has its stop arm extended and red lights flashing, traffic must stop at least 20 feet from the bus. This Minnesota law applies to both oncoming traffic and vehicles approaching from behind. Violation is considered a misdemeanor, with penalties of not less than $300 and possible license suspension.
• Scan between parked cars and other objects for children that may dart into the road.
• Practice extra caution in adverse weather conditions.
• Drive with your headlights on - even during the day - so children and other drivers can see you.

Dropping off and picking up your children at school
School zones are perhaps the most obvious place to be on the lookout for children this fall. However, some motorists don't realize how many of their seemingly innocent driving habits impede school zone operations and possibly endanger the students. As more parents choose to drive their children to school rather than sending them on the bus, school zones that were not designed to handle heavy traffic too often become chaotic and congested.

If you do drop off and pick up your children at their school, pay close attention to posted rules and traffic control markings, especially speed limits and parking rules. Always use designated drop-off areas, and never block school buses or other vehicles. If your children's school is particularly busy, you may want to consider parking off school grounds and walking with them to the school to reduce congestion. And, be sure to use crosswalks, and cooperate with crossing guards or members of the AAA School Safety Patrol.

Tips for kids
As a parent, you can also teach your children many life-saving traffic safety lessons so that they will be more diligent in protecting themselves to and from school. Share the following tips with them before the start of the new school year:

• Keep away from parked cars - drivers can't see you.
• Be extra careful in bad weather - again, drivers may not be able to see you.
• To be more visible, especially at night, wear white or light-colored clothing, or carry reflective material.
• Cross only at corners or crosswalks, never in the middle of the block.
• At signalized crosswalks, cross only with the proper signal.
• Whether signalized or not, always stop, look, and listen before crossing the street.
• Listen to traffic helpers such as AAA School Safety Patrollers and adult crossing guards; they are there to help you.
• If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic, in a single file line, as far away from the road as possible.

Remember, school's open - drive carefully. Slowing down staying alert, and teaching your children the rules of the road will help ensure everyone's safety during this exciting time of year.

Lisa Hartley is coordinator of the Traffic Safety programs at AAA Minneapolis and its Minneapolis Auto Club Foundation for Safety.

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