More than 55 million children across the United States are heading back to school this week.
With 13 percent of those school children typically walking or biking to school, AAA Michigan warns drivers to be especially vigilant for pedestrians and bicyclists during, before, and after school hours.
The afternoon hours are particularly dangerous for walking children. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the highest percentage of fatalities among pedestrians under 15 occurred between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. (42 percent).
Additionally, pedestrians made up 14 percent of fatalities related to traffic crashes in 2012. This percentage has risen every year for the past six years including a 6 percent increase over 2011.
More than one-fifth (22 percent) of all children under age 15 killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians.
AAA's School's Open - Drive Carefully awareness campaign was launched in 1946 in an effort to prevent school-related child pedestrian traffic crashes. AAA stresses the importance of safety and responsibility while traveling, encouraging not only drivers, but also pedestrians and bicyclists to stay alert and be safe while en route to their destination.
"AAA reminds everyone to be extra cautious. Buses, car pools and changing traffic patterns present challenges to all drivers. Being alert and putting the safety of Michigan's children first is of the utmost importance," said Susan Hiltz, AAA Michigan Public Affairs Director.
AAA Michigan recommends the following life-saving tips to keep you safe on the road:
Follow the Speed Limit:
- Watch your speed, especially in and around school zones.
- Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason.
Know and follow all Traffic Rules, Signs and Signals:
- Obey all school zone signs, signals and markings.
- Don't break the law. More than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones.
- Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
- Prior to departure, take care of anything that may potentially distract you on the way to your destination.
- Eat meals or snacks before or after your trip, finish dressing and personal grooming at home, and avoid cell phone use by storing it some place that is inaccessible while driving.
- Keep your eyes on the road at all times. Very often children cross the road unexpectedly and pedestrians are found walking in areas other than crosswalks or intersections.
Cross the Street Safely:
- Look left, right and left again. Be sure the street is clear before you cross.
- Use traffic signals and crosswalks when available to cross the street carefully.
- Walk, don't run.
- Don't enter the roadway between cars, bushes or shrubs.
- Signal your intentions when turning or passing while riding a bike.
Wear a Properly-Fitted Bicycle Helmet
- Helmets should be positioned on the head and low on the forehead, no more than two finger widths above the eyebrow.
- A helmet is the single most effective way to prevent a head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.
Walk/Ride in Safe Places:
- Use crosswalks when crossing the street and always walk on sidewalks when they are provided.
- If there is no sidewalk and you must walk on the street, only do so facing traffic, as this will help increase your visibility to drivers.
- When cycling in the street, always ride in the same direction as traffic.
Be Seen and Be Safe:
- Make it easy for drivers to see you.
- Dress in light colors, wear reflective material or use a flashlight - especially in bad weather conditions where you must be extra careful
Stay Alert and Avoid Distractions:
- Texting and walking on the side of the road can be just as dangerous as texting while driving. As a pedestrian you have a responsibility to stay alert at all times
- Use your eyes and ears as tools to keep you safe by putting away your cell phone and unplugging your ear buds while en route.
AAA Michigan is part of The Auto Club Group (ACG), the second largest AAA club in North America. The headquarter offices are located in Dearborn.