9 Tips for Back-to-School Road Safety

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As children return to school, we all have a responsibility to be more watchful on the roads.

Research from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) found that children between five and 14 are the most at-risk pedestrian group. While the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries is in decline in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions, 10 pedestrians were killed and 46 seriously injured in Toronto so far this year. That compares with 39 pedestrian deaths one year ago.

Driving defensively and observing the rules of the road, particularly in school zones, helps keep everyone safe. Distracted driving is a particular concern around school zones, and you can expect the police to be vigilant in those areas as school resumes in addition to the automated speed enforcement cameras that are set up in community safety zones across Toronto. In the first month of operation beginning July 6, a total of 22,031 speeding fines were issued as a result of the cameras.

It’s worth noting driving infractions committed in a school zone can substantially increase your car insurance rates. Offences such as improperly passing a school bus, failure to obey a school crossing sign or speeding/passing in a school zone are significant traffic violations. These convictions, depending on your insurance company, can increase your insurance premiums by 15% or more for a first offence and 25% or more for subsequent offences.

Here are nine essential safety rules to keep in mind when driving on or around school property this fall:

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1. Always stop for a school bus when the lights are flashing

In Ontario alone, nearly a million children travel by school bus every day. Children have a limited sense of danger and are often excited and energetic when getting on or off a school bus. Watch out for children who may dart out from between stopped school buses or parked cars. Don't obstruct a school bus loading zones and be patient as children get on and off the bus.

Motorists travelling in both directions are required to stop for a school bus when its red lights are flashing, and the stop arm is out. Failing to stop for a school bus carries with it a fine of up to $2,000 and six demerit points for a first-time offence.

2. Observe the posted speed limits

It's important to slow down as you approach a school zone and watch for children who may run out into harm's way. Posted speed limits in school zones are typically either 30km/hr or 40km/hr. Travelling at a slower speed gives drivers time to stop in case children are crossing the road unexpectedly. Playground zones have the same speed limits and are in effect from dawn until dusk each day.

Children may be out and about at various times throughout the day for recess, lunchtime or field trips, so you need to be careful when driving in school zones.

3. Use designated stopping areas only

Respect your school's posted pick-up and drop-off areas to avoid creating unnecessary traffic congestion and unsafe conditions. That includes respecting "No Parking" and "No Stopping" zones.

By parking or stopping illegally, you will create unsafe conditions for those around you, impacting visibility, traffic flow and compromising safe zones designed into road planning networks. It is not just inconvenient to other road users; it is dangerous.

4. Obey the crossing guard at all times

Children expect crossing guards will only allow them to cross the street if the situation is safe, so disregarding a crossing guard's instructions can have serious consequences.

5. Do not pass other vehicles in a school zone

Attempting to pass another vehicle is prohibited in school zones. When passing other vehicles, you may be travelling quickly, and your overall visibility is reduced. Children crossing the street won't expect it or be prepared for your car being in a different lane than usual.

Similarly, you should not perform a U-turn or three-point turn, or even driving in reverse in a school zone if you can avoid it. Any unpredictable driving manoeuvre may cause or contribute to an accident.

6. Avoid driving into the school parking lot

School parking lots tend to be very congested, especially at designated school pick up and drop off times. Increased traffic means an increased likelihood of accidents. It's safer for everyone if you park across the street and use the crosswalk to get to school property.

7. Expect the unexpected

Children are unpredictable and can run out into traffic at any time. Keep an eye out as you approach a school zone and be prepared for children to step onto the road unexpectedly.

8. Share the road with cyclists

Some kids will ride a bike to school, which can create problems for drivers since they’re not able to determine traffic conditions properly. Whenever passing a cyclist, proceed slowly, and leave a few feet between your vehicle and them. Also, whether you’re turning right or left and a child on a bike is approaching, wait for them to pass you or go through the intersection first. Be extra vigilant in school zones and residential areas to watch for kids on bikes.

9. Teach your children the rules of traffic safety and school bus etiquette

You can help keep your children safe by teaching them the rules of the road.

Children should stay well away from any streets and the school parking lot while they are at school. Crossing the street only at designated crosswalks, under the supervision of an adult (ideally a crossing guard), is key to reduce the likelihood that your child might be hit. As pedestrians, teach them to use the sidewalk whenever possible, to look both ways before crossing any street, and to pay attention to where they’re going, not their cellphone.

If they ride a bike to school, ensure they wear a fitted helmet and securely fasten the chin strap. Talk to them about the rules of the road as a cyclist, the importance of staying in a bike lane whenever possible, and never use an electronic device while riding.

If your child takes the school bus, teach them to respect the school bus driver. They should remain seated at all times while on the bus and refrain from distracting conduct, such as throwing things or yelling. They should line up for the school bus at least five steps back from the road in a single file line to wait for the bus and remain there until the bus has come to a complete stop and the doors are open before moving forward. When dismounting the bus, children should always walk (rather than run) and be careful if they need to cross the street. They should never cross between parked cars.

Being a cautious driver in school zones at all times should be a top priority. Plus, it has the added benefit of maintaining a safe driving record, which helps you get a low car insurance premium.