With students returning to school and morning routines likely to be more hectic and rushed than during the hazy, lazy days of summer, let’s keep the safety of not only our own children, but of all children, in mind, especially during the hours children will be walking to and from school.

For your safety and the safety of others, please keep in mind the following top five tips.

1. Safety begins with you. I cannot emphasize this enough. You set the example for your children. It may be human nature to point to the “other guy” or recount past “other guy” experiences, but to do so is not productive in the present or necessarily accurate. Studies, along with our own experience, have shown that most people are aware of what constitutes risky behavior, especially distracted driving and distracted walking, but as the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety informs, “they condemn others for being risky – but they refuse to apply what they know to their own behavior.” The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration recommends following the Golden Rule when driving – “Drive like you would want people to drive in front of your own home.”  One of the safest things you can do for yourself, your family, and others is avoid the “last minute rush” and allot yourself extra time to accommodate the unexpected.  People tend to take more chances and not have safety at the forefront when rushing to their destination.

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2. Teach your children to stay alert when walking to and from school.  Make sure that they are familiar with the route you recommend they follow. Use sidewalks whenever available. If there is no sidewalk, they should walk as close as possible to the side of the road and face traffic. When crossing a street, use a marked crosswalk whenever possible.  (You may have noticed that prior to the start of the school year, the Town employed a contractor to re-stripe marked crosswalks with special retro reflective paint. Glass beads are added to the paint to increase visibility.) If there is no marked crosswalk nearby, cross the street at an intersection (which is considered an “unmarked” crosswalk).  Teach them to look left, then right, then left again and check for any vehicles that may be turning.  Though children should mind the crossing guards and obey traffic signals, children (and adults) should always “double check” by looking both ways before crossing no matter what.

3. Do not be a pedtextrian! Talking and texting while walking has become so commonplace that the term has become part of our vocabulary. Safety experts, traffic engineers, government agencies, researchers, and insurance companies are very concerned as according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s “Stateline," pedestrian injuries are up 35 percent since 2010 due to mobile device use. Distracted walking may lead children and adults to miss important safety cues. Again, set a good example for your children.

4. Drivers – remain alert to the unexpected.  Even with the best of instructions, remember that children are children. They will react to a variety of situations according to their age and maturity level. Because you never know when you may have to stop suddenly for a child, distracted driving or driving over the speed limit is never acceptable.

5. Drivers - expand your field of vision when approaching crosswalks and intersections. In the state of New Jersey, a crosswalk is defined as an extension of the road, sidewalk, curb or edge of the shoulder at an intersection for people on foot.  That means that there is a crosswalk at every intersection, whether it is marked or unmarked. You must stop for a pedestrian(s) in a crosswalk and be sure to stop two car lengths back so that drivers behind you and in other lanes can also see the pedestrian in time to stop. When approaching a stopped vehicle, assume it is stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross. (You may not be able to see the pedestrian(s) at first if they are in front of the stopped vehicle.) If you are waiting for a gap in traffic in order to make a turn, double check that a pedestrian hasn’t entered the crosswalk while you were waiting before proceeding.