By the Echo Press Editorial Board

It’s back-to-school time! And it’s also time for drivers to pay attention and use more caution in and around school zones.

AAA, the Auto Club Group, sent out an alert last week, reminding drivers about the importance of respecting school bus operators and the precious cargo they are carrying.

“It may be tempting to drive around a stopped school bus, but not only is it dangerous, it’s against the law,” noted Mark Peterson, spokesperson for the AAA in Minnesota. “Not stopping when approaching or overtaking a school bus which has its stop lights on and the stop arm extended is unlawful and could result in a hefty fine. The only exception occurs when approaching a school bus in the opposite direction on a roadway divided by a median.”

AAA offers other helpful tips to keep children safe this school year:

  • Plan ahead. Leave early for your destination and build in extra time anticipating there will be traffic congestion near school zones. If needed, consider modifying your route.

  • Backing up. The dangers of the morning commute begin the moment motorists start backing out of driveways. Always look for children and be aware that some young pedestrians may be small enough to be hidden in vehicle blind spots. This is especially true for those driving vans, sport utility vehicles, and pickup trucks.

  • Follow the speed limit. School zone speed limits are purposefully set low. Children are unpredictable and may have difficulty gauging the distance and speed of an approaching car. Be alert to variable speed signs that post lower limits during certain hours when children are typically present. In Minnesota, fines for speeding are doubled in some school zones.

  • Buckle Up. Since Minnesota has a primary seat belt law, everyone must buckle up. Parents and carpoolers who drive children to/from school are reminded to use the proper child safety seat, booster seat or seat belt, based on the child’s age and size. Minnesota law states that all children under age 8 must ride in a federally approved car seat or booster car seat for booster seat unless the child is 4’9” or taller.

  • Look for AAA School Safety Patrollers. With over 654,000 AAA School Safety Patrollers in 34,500 schools across the country, they’re a sure sign you’re approaching a school zone. Slow down and be prepared to stop.

  • Come to a complete stop at stop signs. Research shows that more than one third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.

  • Always stop for loading or unloading school buses. Motorists are required to stay stopped until the stop arm on the bus and stop lights are deactivated.

  • Eliminate driver distraction. AAA research shows that taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. Putting down your phone makes you a safer driver and sets a good example for young passengers and pedestrians. Remember, as of August 1, 2019 hands-free is the law in Minnesota.

  • Watch for bicyclists. Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and the rider. If your child rides a bike to school, he or she should always wear a properly fitted bike helmet.

  • Talk to your teen. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. and more than one-quarter of fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 to 7 p.m.

Just like children at school, drivers should do their homework and heed these tips for a safe and productive school year.