An Echo Press Editorial: Study up on your driving skills
By the Echo Press Editorial Board
With students returning to schools throughout the county next week, it’s time to do some homework on your driving skills.
When it comes to sharing the road with school buses, watching out for pedestrians and avoiding distractions, will you pass or flunk?
Judging by what comes over the police scanner during back-to-school time, a lot of drivers fail, especially when it comes to stopping for a school bus that has its stop signs extended.
AAA Minnesota-Iowa, the Auto Club Group, notes that this time of year is particularly dangerous because of the combination of young inexperienced drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists who will all share the road in the early morning and afternoon hours.
“Drivers should have a heightened sense of awareness from the moment they leave the driveway,” said AAA spokeswoman Meredith Mitts. “Expect more foot traffic in neighborhoods and along city streets. Since children can move quickly and cross the road unexpectedly, it’s important to constantly scan the road for people while driving and be ready to stop at a moment’s notice. You can reduce risk of injury by slowing down and avoiding distractions like using your cell phone or eating while driving.”
A new survey from AAA reveals that many drivers admit to risky behaviors like speeding and using their handheld mobile phone while driving through a school zone. According to the survey of Minnesota drivers:
- 34% admitted to speeding in an active school zone.
- 23% admitted to using their hand-held cell phone while driving in active school zones.
“When driving through a school zone, it’s extremely important that you lower your speed and raise your awareness to ensure you can respond to any potential hazards on the roadway,” Mitts Other tips:
Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. 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.
Come to a complete stop. 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.
Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing.
Share the road. Children on bicycles are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist.
Talk to your teen. Car crashes are one of the leading causes of death for teens in the U.S. Nearly one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occurs during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Students should be paying attention at all times. They should avoid texting or wearing headphones, so they can detect nearby traffic. They should use sidewalks where they’re available. If not, they should walk against the direction of traffic so they can see oncoming vehicles.
Also, students should make themselves easier to be seen by wearing reflective, bright colored clothing. That goes for bicyclists too.
Tips for students at the bus stop:
- Arrive at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
- Stay five steps away from the curb.
- Be alert and remove headphones so you can hear oncoming traffic.
- Wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the bus driver signals for you to board.
And for drivers that seem to get confused when they’re approaching a school bus that’s stopped with its red lights flashing and stop-arms extended, the law is simple: Drivers are required to stop. The only exception is on a divided highway with a raised divider.
Everyone – students, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers – should follow these tips to start off the new school year on the right foot.