Your parents may have reminded you to “look both ways before crossing the street” anytime you left the house as a child. It may be the most commonly used tip for pedestrian safety and it will, again, apply to families this month as children head back to school. Austin, Elgin, Georgetown, Leander, Round Rock, and Lake Travis Independent School Districts begin classes on Monday, August 26; Manor I.S.D. starts on Tuesday, August 27.
Many families live close enough to walk or ride a bike to school, and these are great ways to encourage daily activity, spend time together, and teach children about their neighborhood surroundings. Think about your trips to school as a child. Did you look out the car window, talk to your parents, or walk to the bus stop? Now, think about kids today. Many are looking at phones, plugged into music via headset, or watching TV in the car on the way to school. Almost as important as the physical benefits of walking or biking to school is the mental awareness that comes with unplugging, focusing, and learning the rules of the road.
If you or your child is considering walking or biking to school this year, make sure that you know how to be safe out there. Remember these tips once you step out the door:
This is the new and improved version of “look both ways.” Continue to look for drivers from every direction, but also make sure that they see you. Drivers have more than enough distractions these days – a mesmerizing GPS screen, kids in the backseat, a favorite song to find, a text message alert. Bottom line: Don’t rely on drivers slowing down just because there’s a crosswalk or a stop sign. Eye contact is the best way to confirm that they see you and it is safe to cross.
Put that phone away and take the earphones out. Phones are visual distractions and earphones block warning noises, such as a loud engine or emergency sirens. Make this time about learning the neighborhood and observing the world around you…without constant interference from an electronic device.
Bikers have lots of fun but they also have a few more rules to follow than do walkers. A common mistake is biking across a crosswalk. This is a no-no (and, yes, cyclists can and do get tickets). Once you reach the crosswalk, it’s time to dismount and walk your bike across at the same pace as the pedestrians around you. This maintains a safe and even flow and sets the tone—especially in a school zone—that everyone has to slow down and be mindful of traffic.
Outside of general safety tips, there are real rules about being on the road. Just as drivers need to signal when changing lanes, bikers under the age of 21 need to wear a helmet, and everyone must ride on the correct side of the road and stop at stop signs; pedestrians should walk on sidewalks where they are present. Don’t let yourself get into an “I think this is okay” situation. Like any sport, you need to know the rules to safely play the game.
Parents, if you talk on your phone or answer email while walking the kids to school, they will learn that safety comes second to personal distraction. If you run across the street without looking just to get there a little faster, kids will learn to sacrifice safety for speed. Make the commitment to follow your own rules and your kids will learn the value of doing things safely.
Looking to learn more? Check out these resources:
SafeRoutes: National Center for Safe Routes to School
Safe Kids Austin
Carpool Driver Safety Checklist
National Walk to School Day – October 9, 2013
National Bike to School Day – May 8, 2014
Texas Bicycle Laws
Bicycles, Pedestrians, and the Law