FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Millions of US children are heading back to school this month and because of this, the AAA is warning drivers to be especially vigilant for pedestrians during before- and after-school hours because many students will be walking or biking to school. In fact, according to AAA, the afternoon hours are particularly dangerous for walking children, with nearly one-third of all child-pedestrian fatalities occurring between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

In addition to children walking and biking to school, AAA is reminding drivers that roads will also be congested with more vehicular traffic in the form of school buses.

To keep kids safe this school year, AAA is offering the following suggestions:

  • Slow down. Speed limits in neighborhoods and school zones are reduced for a reason, according to AAA. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed, compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
  • Eliminate distractions. Children often cross the road unexpectedly, and may emerge suddenly from between parked cars, according to AAA. Research shows that taking one’s eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles the chances of crashing.
  • Reverse responsibly. Even with rear-view cameras and sensors, every vehicle has blind spots. AAA advises drivers to check for children on the sidewalk, driveway and around their vehicles before slowly backing up. In addition, AAA says to teach children to never play in, under or around vehicles—even those that are parked.
  • Stop means stop. According to AAA, research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Drivers should always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
  • Respect school buses. When driving behind a school bus, drivers should be prepared to stop when the yellow lights are flashing. When the red lights flash and the STOP arm is extended, drivers on either side of the bus may not pass while children are entering and exiting the bus. Passing a stopped bus will result in hefty fine and five points on your driving record, according to AAA.
  • Watch for bicycles. Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable, according to AAA. Slow down and allow three feet or more of passing distance between one’s vehicle and the bicyclist. If one’s child rides a bike to school, he/she must wear a properly-fitted bike helmet on every ride. Those interested can find videos, expert advice and bicycle safety tips at SharetheRoad.AAA.com.
  • Talk to teens. According to AAA, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the US, and more than one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Those interested can get evidence-based guidance, as well as tips and tools for making the most of their teen’s learning-to-drive experiences at the newly re-designed TeenDriving.AAA.com.
  • Leave early. Leave early for one’s destination and build in extra time for congestion—this will help drivers avoid the temptation to speed or disobey traffic laws in an attempt to “catch up” after being delayed, says AAA. Consider modifying a route to avoid school zones and traffic.
  • Use extra caution in bad weather. Reduced visibility due to rain, fog or sun glare can make it difficult for a driver to see children and vice versa. It can also make it difficult to perform quick stops, if needed.