After 18 months of remote learning and campus closure, children from around the Southland headed back to school this week. The busy morning and afternoon commutes are always a challenge to navigate, therefore drivers should pay extra attention to the numerous school buses and the little pedestrians on their way to and from school. Here are a few tips to help keep the commute safe:

  1. Know where the school zones are located on your daily commute.

School zones are usually well-marked with warning signs, speed bumps and/or flashing lights. Check out the websites for public school districts in your area for more information. Keep your eyes open for school zone signs. Make a note of the speed limits and the location of pedestrian crosswalks, and drive carefully until you are out of the area.

  1. If you can, reroute your commute to avoid school zones.

We all become distracted while driving to and from work, or sometimes run late and feel the need to skirt traffic laws. Too often, we’re also commuting when children are walking to school. So, it’s safer to simply avoid school zones altogether. This also helps reduce traffic congestion around school areas.

  1. If you can’t avoid school zones, slow down and pay attention.

If you must drive through a school zone, leave a little early and drive slower. Penalties for breaking traffic laws double, and sometimes triple, in school zones and around school buses. And the consequences of injuring or killing a child is unthinkable, especially if the accident was avoidable. It’s better to be a little late.

Depending on the school zone, this speed limit could be as low as 10, 15 or 20 miles per hour. Even if the speed limit is not displayed, when driving within 500-1000 feet of a school while children are present, the speed limit is 25 mph at the most.

Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB) are an effective school zone safety solution that many communities have installed at high-risk intersections. However, even if there are no flashing lights, remember that pedestrians always have the right-of-way. If a pedestrian is crossing the street, drivers must yield.

To ensure that you don’t violate the law or strike a child, avoid passing or changing lanes in a school zone. Also, put your distractions aside and give your full attention to the road.

  1. Respect the school crossing guard

Schools with crossing guard programs typically place them at intersections where children are most at risk. A crossing guard is usually attired in a bright safety vest and carries a stop sign. The crossing guard is the first person to step into the street, and the last person to step off the street.

If you see a crossing guard enter the street, know that children are likely to follow. Respect the guard’s authority and obey their directions. Stay in place until all pedestrians, and the guard, are safely on the other side of the road and the STOP sign is down.

  1. Know the law about driving near school buses

In every state, it is against the law to pass a school bus when it is stopped to load or unload children. On undivided roads, cars traveling in both directions—those driving behind the school bus, and those driving toward the bus on the other side—must stop, and stay stopped, until the bus proceeds.

Some school buses flash yellow lights and may have an extending STOP sign so that all drivers are aware that children are entering or exiting the bus. State laws vary about passing a school bus going the opposite direction on a divided road, so check your state’s school bus safety laws to be sure.

  1. Follow the rules when picking up and dropping off children at school

When dropping their own children off or picking them up at school, it seems as though some parents forget all about the safety of other children.

When depositing or picking your kids up at school, use the designated drop off and pick up lanes, and drive slowly – that means less than 10 mph. Expect children to dart out between cars and be ready to hit the brake if they do.

If you will take more than a moment, then find a legal parking spot to keep the lane clear. The key word is legal: never park in a fire lane, emergency lane, or space designated for handicapped parking.

  1. Even when not driving in school zones, be mindful of small pedestrians when school is in session.