SPRINGFIELD Parents and drivers need to do their part to make sure the 2012-2013 school year is a safe one for schoolchildren everywhere.
"Each back-to-school season, it's important for both parents and children to do their homework and remember to review safety," Mandi Summers said, co-coordinator of Safe Kids of Western Massachusetts, headquartered at Baystate Children's Hospital.
For kids who walk to school or to a bus stop, Safe Kids USA recommends that parents walk the route to school with students before the start of the new school year.
They should assess any hazards and select a route with the least number of traffic crossings. Safe Kids safety experts suggest reminding kids to:
Riding the bus to school brings its own safety prerogatives, too.
- Cross the street with an adult until they are at least 10 years old.
- Cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks.
- Never run out into the streets or cross in-between parked cars.
Also, drivers are reminded to:
- Slow down and be especially alert in residential neighborhoods and school zones.
- Take extra time to look for kids at intersections, on medians and on curbs.
- Enter and exit driveways and alleys slowly and carefully.
- Watch for children on and near the road in the morning and after school hours.
- Reduce any distractions inside your car, so you can concentrate on the road and your surroundings. Put down your phone and don't talk or text while driving.
Children need to be educated on the proper way to ride the bus by staying seated, waiting to move until the bus comes to a complete stop, and making sure to behave while on the bus by not throwing objects and keeping their head and arms inside the bus at all times.
"Many injuries occur when children are boarding or exiting a school bus because of a blind spot that obstructs the driver's view. Children should be told to cross at least 10 feet in front of the bus and to always exit from the front of the bus. They should also use the handrails to avoid falling," Summers said.
"Children waiting for the bus or getting off the bus should be reminded to stay out of the street and avoid fooling around," she added.
As for parents driving their child to school, they need to make sure he or she stays fastened by a functioning seat belt that is appropriate for their age.
Also, children should be dropped off and picked up in a non-congested area as close to the school as possible so that they don't have to cross the street. Always make sure they enter and leave the car on the curb side, and watch them until they enter the school building.
"For children who are old enough to ride their bicycles to school, by law they must wear a helmet," Summers said, who noted children should not ride on the road without adult supervision until about the age of 10.
In addition to being aware of the dangers associated with kids walking or driving to school, parents should not forget that over two million children ages 14 and under sustain injuries while in school each year, and in elementary schools 80 percent of students will see a school nurse for an injury-related complaint over a two-year period.
The most common sites of injury are on playgrounds, but the right equipment for a child's age and soft surfacing can help keep school playtime fun and safe.
"Remember, children look to their parents as role models who at all times should exhibit safe behaviors that all children should follow," said Summers.
For more information about back to school safety, visit www.safekids.org or call the western Massachusetts chapter of Safe Kids at 794-6510. For more information on Baystate Children's Hospital, visit baystatehealth.org/bch.