Back to school safety basics

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By Kirsten McMahon

With another school year about to begin, parents and children alike are understandably concerned about staying safe and keeping healthy. Depending on the school board or jurisdiction, our kids face another year of masking, physical distancing, frequent handwashing and symptom screenings.

“Although COVID-19 has been at the forefront of most discussions about the upcoming school year, it’s important for parents to refresh themselves on safety basics,” says Settlement Lenders President, Larry Herscu. “With the constant focus on coronavirus health measures, it’s easy to forget discussing basics like pedestrian and bike safety with your kids,” he says.

Pedestrian safety tips

“If your children are walking to school on their own, find a safe route for them,” says Herscu. “An ideal school route has sidewalks or paths, no major intersections, and a crossing guard on duty. “It’s a good idea to do a practice walk with your child leading up to the first day of school,” he adds.

Safe Kids Worldwide is an excellent resource for parents to share with their kids, says Herscu.

The nonprofit organization suggest the following tips for teaching children to walk safely:

  • Teach kids at an early age to look left, right and left again before crossing the street. Then remind them to continue looking until safely across.
  • It’s always best to walk on sidewalks or paths and cross at street corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible.
  • Teach kids to make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street.
  • Encourage kids to be especially alert for cars that are turning or backing up.
  • Teach kids not to run or dart out into the street or cross between parked cars.
  • If kids are walking when it’s dark out, teach them to be especially alert and make sure they are visible to drivers. Have them wear light- or brightly-coloured clothing and reflective gear.

“Older kids and teens need reminders about the dangers of walking while distracted,” says Herscu. “They should put phones and other electronic devices down when crossing the street and either remove their headphones off or turn down the volume before crossing the street.”

Bicycle safety

Biking is a handy way for children to get to school and is an excellent source of exercise and fresh air. That said, children need the right equipment and a good understanding of the fundamentals of safe riding practices, Herscu notes.

“Frankly, every cyclist should wear a helmet, but, by law, those under age 18 must wear an approved helmet,” he says. “A helmet should meet strict safety standards and fit properly when worn correctly — but the best helmets won’t do anything to protect if your reluctant child won’t wear it.”

Studies have shown that parents are the most significant influence on children wearing helmets, followed by their peers and celebrities, so model good behaviour when riding with your kids.

Preparing for back to school is a good time to make sure reflectors are secure, brakes work properly, gears shift smoothly, and tires are properly inflated, Herscu says.

The Canada Safety Council notes that most bicycle injuries do not involve motor vehicles — most are falls, collisions with stationary objects, and crashes with other bikes or pedestrians.

However, the most severe incidents involve motor vehicles. For example, according to the national safety organization, common bicycle injuries involve driveway ride-outs, running stop signs and turning without warning.

“Families can do a practice ride to school, emphasizing stopping at all stop signs, scanning for traffic and signalling all turns,” says Herscu.

 

School zone safety

Children aren’t the only ones who need to stay safe this school year, says Herscu. “Drivers need to reduce speed in residential areas and school zones and pay close attention to signage,” he says. 

CAA reports that nearly three-quarters of kids are driven to school, leading to a significant increase in vehicle traffic in school zones – bringing more unsafe driving with it.

Avoid distractions and keep an eye out for children darting out from between parked cars, Herscu says.

“I know it’s difficult for some people when they’re running late, but be patient at school crossings,” he says. “Wait until pedestrians and crossing guards are safely on the sidewalk before driving on.”

When a school bus’ lights are flashing, all traffic should stop to allow children to get on or off the vehicle. Drivers can proceed cautiously once the driver has turned off the lights and removed the stop sign.

“In B.C., the first offence penalty for illegally passing school buses is $368 as well as three demerit points,” says Herscu. “Of course, subsequent offences increase dramatically.”

“In Alberta, failing to stop when the red lights on a bus are flashing will net a vehicle owner a maximum $543 fine and six demerit points,” he adds.

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