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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Bike, Bus, Walk

Sep 03, 2017 12:00AM

By Steven D. Herrington, Ph.D.

With the start of a new school year upon us, families across the county are relying on a variety of ways to get their kids to school. Rather than driving single-family vehicles, many families opt for walking, biking, riding the school bus, or carpooling. These options take a burden off the environment and help ease traffic congestion. Walking and biking are particularly eco-friendly and give kids the physical activity they need. However, these alternative routes to school come with certain risks that families should keep in mind: In the United States in 2009, approximately 23,000 children ages 5–15 were injured and more than 250 were killed while walking or bicycling. That said, motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death in school-age children, so no travel mode comes without risk. Thankfully, knowledge can minimize the risk. In that spirit, I am sharing some tips for safely getting children to the classroom.

Train With the new SMART train up and running, railroad track safety is now more important than ever in Sonoma County. When crossing railroad tracks, stop, look, and listen for approaching trains. Kids should be taught never to play, sleep, walk, or ride their bicycles on railroad tracks. Although trains may not seem fast, they move at speeds of 65 mph or more; it can take over a mile for them to stop. Stay alert when near the tracks; don’t be distracted by cell phones or headphones. Approach all crossings carefully and be prepared to stop 15 feet behind the crossing gates. Never try to beat a train through a railroad crossing.

Walking It is best for children under the age of 10 to be accompanied by a parent or adult when crossing the street. Playing and running into the street should be prohibited. Children should be instructed to stay on the sidewalk, only cross at a cross walk, and look for cars before stepping into the cross walk. The proper way to look for a car is to look to the left, to the right, and then back to the left again. It is important to continue looking while crossing in case a car approaches. Tell children to never assume that a driver sees them or that the driver will stop. As with all pedestrians, children should never walk with their backs to oncoming traffic if there is no sidewalk. When walking past driveways, instruct children to stay alert for cars backing out.

Biking Choose a bicycle that is appropriate for your child’s age and size. Helmets and protective gear are also critical. Helmets should be level on the head, buckled, and covering the forehead. Additionally, children should wear bright clothing to help make them more visible. At least one item of clothing should contain some type of reflective material on it. It is also important that children learn and obey all traffic laws. Teach children about hand signals, street signs, traffic lights, and pedestrian lights. It is important to be predictable and ride in the same direction as traffic at all times.

Riding the School Bus While at the bus stop, kids should wait quietly in a safe space well away from the road. To avoid falling or being pushed accidentally in front of the bus, children should not play in the street or anywhere near the approaching vehicle. When entering the bus, kids should go directly to a seat, remain seated, and face forward during the entire ride. Students must wait until the bus comes to a full stop before getting off. If a student must cross the street, he or she should walk 10 feet ahead of the bus on the sidewalk. Once the driver is in clear view, the student should wait for a signal from the driver before crossing. Children should always cross the street in front of the bus and never go behind it.

Driving Safe driving is just as important as safe biking and walking. Make sure to slow down and be alert in residential areas and school zones. Take extra time to look for kids at intersections, on medians, and on curbs. Enter and exit driveways and alleys slowly and carefully. Watch for children on or near the road in the morning and after school hours. Reduce distractions inside your car so you can concentrate on the road and your surroundings. When parking next to a curb, have children get out at curbside. Never leave a child alone in a vehicle. Always lock car doors and trunks, and keep keys out of children’s reach.

I encourage our community to always put safety first, especially when it comes to our children. This list is not meant to be comprehensive but rather a starting point to spread awareness of traffic safety. For more resources, visit  

Steven D. Herrington, Ph.D., is the Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools.