Drivers reminded to stay alert now that school is back in session

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published September 16, 2015


METRO DETROIT — The school year kicked off Sept. 8, filling the roads and sidewalks once again with buses and children traveling to and from school.

With more traffic on the roads and more children walking outside, AAA Michigan is reminding motorists to stay alert in neighborhoods and school zones as part of its School’s Open — Drive Carefully awareness campaign.

Susan Hiltz, public affairs director for AAA Michigan, said AAA originally launched the awareness campaign in 1946 in an effort to curb unsafe driving behavior in school zones and neighborhoods.

“The bottom line is when kids are back in school, traffic patterns change in all of our communities, so it is important to alert people. It’s an important reminder that kids are standing curbside waiting for buses, and there’s more cars and buses on the road during school drop-off and pickup times,” Hiltz explained.

The afternoon hours are particularly dangerous for walking children, according to the organization, which said nearly one-third of child pedestrian fatalities have occurred between 3 and 7 p.m. over the last decade. In fact, Hiltz said, over 330 child pedestrians died in traffic accidents and 13,000 were injured in 2013.

“People need to remember to drive cautiously, be more alert, look for kids, look for more traffic, slow down and keep themselves alert when they are behind the wheel,” she said.

Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm said it is certainly the time of year to be even more attentive than normal on the roads.

“Kids are excited. They are out walking, and they are not always necessarily going to be paying as close attention as they should either, so it’s good on both sides — whether it be the pedestrians or the drivers — that everybody be extra alert this time of year,” he said.

With everyone home from summer vacations, Schettenhelm said there’s a lot more traffic this time of year.

“There is more regular back-and-forth to work traffic in the morning, and that school rush, so the statistics tell us that there is certainly a high probability that we are going to have more accidents this time of year as compared to the summer months, when a segment of your population is on vacation. This time of year, kids have to get to school, people have to get to work, and we are back on those tight schedules,” he said.

With fall quickly approaching, Schettenhelm said, it’s not as bright in the morning as it was during the summer, which also poses a bit of a challenge for drivers.

“Parents need to make sure that kids are dressed in bright clothes and have reflectors on backpacks and all those kind of things when they are out in the early morning hours at the bus stop — or getting there. Those things are also helpful for people to see people when they are driving,” he said.

Hiltz said the volume of traffic at around 3 p.m. is unbelievably higher now than it was in the summer.

“You could drive in the summer around 3 p.m. and it wasn’t all congested, but now it is really ramped up because some folks are trying to get home because the kids are getting home from school — it’s just different traffic patterns,” she explained. “I think all of us need to be reminded, as motorists, to be extra cautious and also to alert our kids to be careful when they are getting on and off buses or being carpooled or dropped off at school. It’s just really important to make safer communities for everyone in Michigan.”

To avoid potential child pedestrian injuries and fatalities this school year, AAA Michigan reminds motorists to follow six safety steps.

First and foremost, motorists are encouraged to slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason, according to AAA Michigan, which says a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.

Drivers are reminded to eliminate distractions, since children often cross the road unexpectedly and may emerge suddenly between two parked cars.

Driving carefully when backing up is another precaution. Every vehicle has blind spots, so checking for children on the sidewalk, driveway and around the vehicle is a must before slowly backing up.

AAA Michigan also suggests that parents talk to their children and remind them to never play in, under or around vehicles — even those that are parked.

Teens are especially at risk, according to AAA Michigan, which said car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States.

AAA Michigan also notes that more than one-quarter of fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3-7 p.m.

Motorists are reminded to always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding. AAA Michigan says research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods.

Drivers are also encouraged to watch for bicycles, since children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable.