Summer is ending, kids are going back to school, and, as always, August is National School Safety Month. It is truly remarkable how many dangers await school children, but if you are properly prepared, you can do your best to ensure a safe and wonderful year for your child and your family. Over the course of the next few weeks as kids nationwide return to the classroom, I will address four main safety concerns your child may face in a single school day.
Part 1: Walking to School – From the Street Where You Live
Walking to school can have great benefits – it promotes exercise, thus lowering the child’s risk of obesity, and it offers an opportunity for social engagement with traveling companions. Phyllis F. Agran, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ updated policy on school transportation safety, firmly believes this. She says, “Communities need to look at their local areas and see what issues are keeping kids from walking to school, where that’s feasible. We’re looking at the first generation of children in the U.S. who aren’t expected to outlive their parents because of obesity-related illnesses. Walking is a great way to combat this epidemic, but it must be done safely.”
Every year, 815 students die and 152,250 are injured on their way to/from school, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Unintentional pedestrian injuries are the fifth leading cause of injury/death for children 5-19, especially teens. Other times, children don’t make it back home because every 40 seconds, a child goes missing or is abducted, often within a quarter mile of the child’s home.
With safety as the number one concern, here are some tips to guarantee your child’s safety as much as possible.
- Prepare Your Child
- Ask yourself whether or not your child is mentally and emotionally ready and if they have the necessary skills. Can they stay alert and focused? Teach the skills your child lacks.
- Consider the amount of available daylight during your child’s travel times. Regardless, it is advised that the child wears brightly colored clothing.
- Prepare your child for the weather. Have a back-up transportation plan when weather conditions become too extreme, such as sub-zero wind chill or icy walkways.
- Teach your kids (especially teens) to put phones, headphones, and other devices away while walking. Set a good example by doing this yourself.
- Prepare the Neighborhood
- You and your neighbors should turn on porch lights before dawn and after dusk.
- Designate safe houses (neighbors and local businesses) on your child’s route and ask if your child may stay in case of an emergency. If they can watch the child as they pass, it’s a plus.
- Don’t Let Them Go Alone
- If you or another relative can walk your child to school, that is best.
- Children under 10-years-old are unable to accurately judge speed and distance and thus should always be accompanied by an adult, or at least an older companion.
- Find neighborhood children for your child to travel with.
- Pick a Safe Route
- Walk the route yourself and then with your child a few times before letting them go without you.
- The route should have good visibility, be relatively hazard-free, have a safe walking distant from traffic, and not include dangerous crossings. Routes with well-trained crossing guards are a plus.
- Ensure Communication
- Make sure your child knows their home phone and address, your work and cell phone(s), and the phone number (and maybe address) of another trusted adult. Have your child keep this information somewhere safe, like their backpack or shoe.
- If your child has a phone, ask them to text or call you when they arrive at school and when they arrive home (if you aren’t there). A “school/home” or “k” is great – it keeps your mind at ease and they’ll be more likely to do it if the message is brief.
Share these tips with your children:
- Obey the Rules and Route
- Never stray from the approved path – no shortcuts or rides without parent permission.
- Never walk alone.
- Be on time and don’t delay.
- Make Sure You Are Seen
- Use your safety equipment when the weather/daylight demands it.
- Watch for cars at every driveway, intersection, and curb.
- Look to see if parked cars have drivers and/or start moving.
- Stay on the Sidewalk, when possible
- If there is no sidewalk, walk as far to the left as possible and face traffic.
- No horseplay near the street.
- Cross the Street Safely
- Only cross at designated areas, look both ways, and watch for cars as you cross.
- Cross with your entire group.
- Walk, don’t run, across the street.
- Obey traffic signals, crossing guards, and the police.
- Don’t Interact with Strangers
- Never approach them, talk to them, or accept anything from them.
- If a stranger follows you on foot, get away quickly and yell “help” loudly.
- If a stranger follows you in a car, walk to the nearest place for help whether your home, and neighbor, or place of business, even if it means going in the opposite direction.
- Never leave school with a stranger. Tell an adult if a stranger is hanging around school.
- Don’t carry/wear anything openly displaying your name.
- Communicate with Your Parents and Teachers
- Report any bullying or non-ordinary events that occur during your walk.
- Alert parents, school personnel, or police of anyone or anything suspicious.
- If your parents ask, notify them when you arrive at your destination safely.
By following these tips, every young pedestrian will be better equipped to navigate the streets while traveling to/from school.
Lawsuit Financial wishes everyone a healthy, safe, and happy start to a new school year!
Mark Bello has practiced law for 40 years. He is currently the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company, and the author of the two legal thriller novels, Betrayal of Faith and Betrayal of Justice (books available on major online book store sites).
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.