Drive carefully as students return to school

The first day of school in Williston was Wednesday—meaning more children biking, walking and busing to school. To help boost traffic safety in and around school zones, AAA Northern New England is beginning its 79th annual “School’s Open—Drive Carefully” campaign.

AAA warns drivers to be especially vigilant for pedestrians and bicyclists before and after school hours. The afternoon hours are particularly dangerous—over the last decade, more than a quarter of child pedestrian fatalities occurred between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. One-fifth of children under age 14 who die in motor vehicle crashes are pedestrians, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“As a new school year begins, travel patterns change and school zones become congested. There is an increased number of children walking and biking to and from school and waiting at bus stops,” said AAA Northern New England’s Manager of Public Affairs Pat Moody. “Drivers must watch for children walking or riding a bike, reduce their speeds in school zones and stop for school buses”

Mandatory seat belt and booster seat laws, air bags, bike helmet requirements, texting and cell phone ban awareness as well as new, safer ways for crossing streets should be discussed with children, he added. Children should remove headphones and put away cell phones and other electronic devices so they can hear and see traffic when crossing the street, Moody said.

Motorists should remember:

Slow down. Obey school zone speed limits. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.

Stop for the school bus. Upon meeting in either direction a school bus receiving or discharging children on a road, parking area, or on school property, a driver must stop and not proceed until the bus resumes movement or the school bus operator signals to proceed. Drivers in all lanes must stop.

Come to a complete stop. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.

Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. And children can be quick, crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by not texting, using your cell phone or eating while driving, for example.

Watch for bicycles. Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist. If your child rides a bicycle to school, require that he or she wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet on every ride. Find videos, expert advice and safety tips at

Talk to your teen. No matter how good a student or how much you trust your teen, they are still an inexperienced driver. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and more than one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Consider the AAA Onboard Teen Safe Driver Program. AAA Onboard utilizes an in-vehicle device and web portal to help parents identify coaching opportunities and stay connected with their teen driver.

Pedestrians should remember the following safety tips:

Children under age 10 should not cross the street alone.

Cross only at corners so drivers can see you.

Always use a crosswalk when available. But remember that painted lines can’t stop cars.

Remove headphones and put away electronic devices when crossing the street.

Use the intersection walk/don’t walk push-button. Cross with the “walk” sign only.

Look all ways before crossing, watching for cars that are turning.

Never cross the street from between cars. Drivers can’t see you.

If there’s no sidewalk, walk on left side of road, facing traffic, to see oncoming cars.

Use a flashlight or wear something retro-reflective at night to help drivers see you.

Bicyclists should remember:

Wear a helmet.

Keep your bicycle in good mechanical condition.

Use the safest route to your destination. Obey all traffic rules and signs.

Walk your bike across busy intersections

Don’t carry passengers.

Be sure the road is clear before entering.

Always ride single file and watch for opening car doors.