It’s every commuter’s least favorite time of year: back-to-school season! As the long 9-month sentence for 50-plus million students begins, traffic becomes chaotic, tensions rise, and the buses—oh, the buses!
Still, safety is paramount even if you’re driving with clenched teeth. Everyone knows to slow down and keep an eye out for wandering kiddos while school is in session, but what else should you do when driving in a school zone? To avoid trouble, follow these 10 driving tips.
10. Identify School Zones
Be an observant driver at all times, but especially during the school year. Check for school zone signs, warning lights, buses, speed humps, and children crosswalks around schools. These aren’t put up randomly; they’re installed on busy streets, near schools, so drivers don’t do the unthinkable.
9. Don’t Pass a Stopped School Bus
Even with advanced driver-assist safety features in your car, like Toyota’s Pre-Collision with Pedestrian Detection system, you should never attempt to pass a school bus that’s loading or unloading children, regardless of if you’re in a school zone. Not only is this unsafe, but it can also net you some reckless driving counts and a lengthy stint behind bars. It’s illegal to pass a stopped school bus in Missouri, just as it’s illegal to do so in any other county or state in the U.S.
So, once the red stop sign goes out, your foot should be on the brake pedal – period. In 2018, 17 children were struck and killed by illegally passing vehicles. Don’t be part of that statistic by making a bad decision; you can be 5 minutes late to work.
8. Put Down the Phone
Texting and driving is nearly as bad as driving intoxicated. When traveling through a school zone or any neighborhood during bus pick-up and drop-off hours, it’s imperative you remove all forms of distraction from your periphery. That means no phones, no fidgeting with the radio, no nibbling on a breakfast burrito. Children don’t know that you’re eating your meal on-the-go, and they aren’t the best at checking both ways before crossing the street.
7. Keep Crosswalks Clear
Stop before the crosswalk, not inside of the crosswalk. It may not sound significant, but blocking a crosswalk is equally as dangerous as driving through one. Pedestrians must navigate around your vehicle, potentially putting them in line of other moving traffic. Children are especially at risk in these scenarios, as they’re smaller and, therefore, less visible to drivers in trucks or tall SUVs.
6. Yield at School Crossing Signs
Pedestrians have the right-of-way in all situations, but sometimes drivers don’t have time to react to darting children or cyclists in school zones — even when going the speed limit. When a school crossing sign is activated or blinking – or even when it’s off-hours – you should look around, slow down considerably, and always yield at crosswalks. In fact, yielding to any pedestrian crossing the street is a law.
5. Slow Down
In school zones, speed limits can be as low as 15 mph or as high as 25 mph. For example, if you drive past Skyline Elementary here in Sedalia, you’ll notice a prominent “15 MPH SPEED LIMIT” sign on W 32nd Street.
However, sometimes the speed limit isn’t low enough. During the busier portions of the school day – typically early morning and late afternoon, when kids are going to and leaving school – you’ll want to drive even slower and more vigilantly. This applies to neighborhoods, too.
If child safety isn’t a concern to you, perhaps a very heavy fine will talk your language. When you’re caught speeding in a school zone, cops will have absolutely no qualms about writing you a ticket that no judge would toss out.
4. Obey the Traffic Guards
Between 7 and 9 AM and 2 and 4 PM, crossing guards can be found directing traffic near schools, particularly in areas that do not have traffic lights. Roads can get congested in these areas, which will certainly make some impatient drivers frustrated. But you should follow the traffic guards’ signals to ensure buses and children are able to safely cross intersections.
3. Don’t Direct Pedestrians
Crossing guards direct pedestrians, not drivers. If you wave a child to cross when other vehicles are approaching, the child may not check for oncoming traffic in the opposite direction or from behind you. This is especially true on multi-lane streets where vehicles may attempt to pass stopped or slowed vehicles. Yield, but don’t give pedestrians a false sense of security.
2. No Honking
Honk out your frustrations – that’s what most drivers do when they’re not happy about another driver. But honking is quite loud and distracting, which can turn children into deer in the headlights. A honk will alert them to look your way, even if they’re in the middle of a crosswalk, and when children get distracted, they aren’t keen on sticking to a task – even crossing the street.
1. Change Your Daily Routine
If you’re commonly stuck behind school buses in the morning, consider making a change – to your work commute, not your hair color. Leave earlier or find an alternative route that avoids school zones. Or learn your area’s school-bus routes and times, and be sure to avoid those areas and times.
Another good option is to get a vehicle with built-in GPS navigation. Try a kid-friendly vehicle like the RAV4 or Toyota Highlander, which have navigation with turn-by-turn directions. Speak your destination, re-route your trip, and avoid the stress of sharing the road with school buses.
For more info about Toyota safety or a specific new Toyota model, contact your Toyota dealer. If you’re in Sedalia, MO, reach our McCarthy Toyota team at 660-826-5400. We’ll help you pick the perfect vehicle for back-to-school season!