Fall mornings in Bellingham often begin with a flurry of activity: school buses on the roads, lights flashing, as kids get on; kids racing their bikes towards school with not a minute to spare, and parents trying to get kids out the door and in the car before they head to work. With all that action, it’s very important for motorists to slow down and drive with their full attention. Below are some things for drivers to think about when school is in session.

If You’re Dropping Off

Check with your school to learn about its particular drop-off procedures. Every school should have them. According to the National Safe Routes to School program, kids are more often hit around schools than any other location. The tips below apply to all school zones in general:

  • Avoid double-parking. Other kids and vehicles can’t see around you and may have to pass into oncoming vehicles to get by your car.
  • Park on the same side of the street as the school so your kids don’t have to cross.
  • Carpool! It reduces the number of cars – and potential accidents – at the school.

Here you’ll find Bellingham School District’s Rules and Safety Procedures for Riding the School Bus, and information on school bus riding for kids and parents.

Sharing the Road with Young Pedestrians 

This terrible (but preventable) reality comes from the National Safety Council: most of the children who die in bus-related accidents are only 4 to 7 years old, and they are walking. The main dangers are being hit by the bus, or by a vehicle illegally passing a stopped bus. It’s critical for drivers to follow these practices:

  • Avoid stopping in a crosswalk when stopped at a light or making a turn. This forces pedestrians to go around your car, and that could put them in the path of moving traffic.
  • Obey signage in a school zone. When flashers are blinking, stop your vehicle and wait until all pedestrians clear the crosswalk or intersection. Additionally, always stop for a school patrol officer or crossing guard holding up a stop sign.
  • Be extra observant of children in school zones, residential areas, and playgrounds and parks.
  • It should go without saying, but don’t honk or rev your engine to scare a pedestrian, even if you have the right of way.
  • Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians
  • Always use extreme caution to avoid striking pedestrians wherever they may be, no matter who has the right of way

Remember, you can do none of those things if you are driving distracted.

Sharing the Road with School Buses

Every state, including Washington, has a law against passing a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children. If you’re driving behind a bus, allow a greater following distance than if you were driving behind a car. It will give you more time to stop once the yellow lights start flashing. School buses are like traffic signals, so drivers must obey them just they would a stop light.

  • Never pass a bus from behind – or from either direction if you’re on an undivided road – if it is stopped to load or unload children
  • If the yellow or red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, traffic must stop
  • The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to allow them space to safely enter and exit the bus
  • Be alert; children often are unpredictable, and they tend to ignore hazards and take risks. Especially if they are walking while distracted by their cell phones…

Sharing the Road with Bicyclists

On most roads, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as vehicles, but bikes can be hard to see. Children riding bikes create special problems for drivers because usually they are not able to properly determine traffic conditions. The most common cause of collision is a driver turning left in front of a bicyclist.

  • When passing a bicyclist, proceed in the same direction slowly, and leave 3 feet between your car and the cyclist
  • When turning left and a bicyclist is approaching in the opposite direction, wait for the rider to pass
  • If you’re turning right and a bicyclists is approaching from behind on the right, let the rider go through the intersection first, and always use your turn signals
  • Watch for bike riders turning in front of you without looking or signaling; children especially have a tendency to do this
  • Be extra vigilant in school zones and residential neighborhoods
  • Watch for bikes coming from driveways or behind parked cars
  • Check side mirrors before opening your door

By exercising a little extra care and caution, drivers and pedestrians can co-exist safely in school zones. Parents, please share this article with your kids, as a gentle reminder to pay attention to their surroundings just as drivers should also.

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