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August is “Back-to-School” Month

Time to Think About “Back-to-School” Safety (Sorry Kids!)

A small amount of planning now can help everyone have a more pleasant and safe experience during the entire school year…and beyond.

The countdown has begun: Only four short weeks until the start of the 2017-18 school year. It’s time to enjoy those last few carefree days of sleeping in, video game playing, or time at the beach or pool. Parents will soon begin the arduous task of shopping for new supplies, clothes, and shoes. Earlier bedtimes will be enforced and many complaints will be voiced.

But, be honest: How many of you think about safety concerns for the new school year? “Safety should be the top priority for all students, especially younger children and those heading to school for the first time,” says Maria Devlin, CEO of the American Red Cross in New Hampshire and Vermont. “Whether riding, biking, or walking to school, we want everyone to arrive and then return home safely.”

Share the Road

It sounds simple, but drivers should know what the yellow and red bus signals mean and be aware that children are out walking or biking to school. We often assume that every driver knows this information, but, well…you’d be surprised.

First, slow down—especially in residential areas and school zones. When you see yellow flashing lights, this indicates the bus is preparing to stop and you should slow down and be prepared to stop as well. Red flashing lights, with an extended stop sign, indicate the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off. Drivers in both directions must stop their vehicles and wait until the lights are turned off, the stop sign is back in place, and the bus is moving before they may start driving again. It is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus stopped to load or unload children.

Just remember, if you’re driving behind a bus, allow a greater following distance than if you were behind a car—you’ll have more time to stop once the yellow lights begin flashing. The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children, so stop far enough back to allow them space to safely enter and exit the bus.

Bus Behavior

Some 25 million students nationwide begin and end their day with a trip on a school bus. The National Safety Council reports that school buses are the safest way for students to travel, but also recommends that children do their part to stay alert and aware of their surroundings. They suggest the following safety rules for getting on and off the bus and for exercising good behavior while riding.

Getting on the bus:

  • When waiting for the bus, stay away from traffic and avoid roughhousing or other behavior that can lead to carelessness.
  • Do not stray onto the street, alleys, or private property.
  • Line up away from the street or road as the bus approaches.
  • Wait until the bus has stopped and the door opens before approaching the bus.
  • Use the handrail when boarding.

Behavior on the bus:

  • If seat belts are available, buckle up.
  • Don’t speak loudly or make loud noises that could distract the driver.
  • Stay in your seat.
  • Don’t put your head, arms, or hands out the window.
  • Keep aisles clear of books and bags.
  • Get your belongings together before reaching your stop.
  • Wait for the bus to stop completely before getting up from your seat.

Getting off the bus:

  • Use the handrail when exiting.
  • If you must cross in front of the bus, first walk at least 10 feet ahead until you can see the driver.
  • Make sure the driver can see you.
  • Wait for a signal from the driver before crossing.
  • When the driver signals, look left, right, then left again. Walk across the road and keep an eye out for sudden traffic changes.
  • If your vision is blocked, move to an area where you can see other drivers and they can see you.
  • Do not cross the center line of the road until the driver signals it is safe.
  • Stay away from the rear wheels of the bus at all times.

Sadly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that more school-age pedestrians have been killed during the hour before and after school than any other time of day. And, although drivers are required by law to stop for a school bus when it’s loading or unloading passengers, they often don’t. Children should not rely on them to do so.

Play it Safe

They don’t make playgrounds like they used to, and that’s a good thing. But accidents still happen. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that emergency departments see more than 20,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related traumatic brain injury each year. Approximately 45 percent of playground-related injuries are severe, including fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and even amputations.

The N.C. Department of Insurance and Safe Kids North Carolina suggest the following tips to parents and teachers to children are safe on the playground at school:

Ensure there’s safe surfacing beneath and surrounding all playground equipment to minimize the risks of falling.

  • Acceptable loose-fill surfacing materials include shredded rubber, hardwood fiber mulch or chips, and fine sand. Rubber mats, synthetic turf, and other artificial materials are also safe surfaces and require less maintenance.
  • Asphalt, concrete, grass, and soil surfaces under playground equipment should be avoided. They are not good at preventing injuries.
  • Surfacing should be at least 12 inches deep and extend at least six feet in all directions around stationary equipment. Depending on the height of the equipment, surfacing may need to extend farther than six feet.

Ensure that all playgrounds are inspected and maintained by qualified personnel.

  • Daily, monthly, and annual maintenance schedules should be followed.
  • Separate play areas should be maintained for children under age 5.
  • Schools and childcare centers should have age-appropriate, well-maintained playground equipment and trained supervisors should be present while children are on the playground.
  • Any playground safety hazards should be reported to the organization responsible for the site (e.g., school, park authority, or city council).

Children should always be supervised when using playground equipment. Teachers or caregivers should:

  • Prevent unsafe behaviors like pushing, shoving, crowding, and inappropriate use of equipment.
  • Ensure children use age-appropriate playground equipment.
  • Remove hood and neck drawstrings from all children’s outerwear. Never allow children to wear helmets, necklaces, purses, scarves, or clothing with drawstrings while on playgrounds.

Phone Formalities

For the middle and high school crowd, the phone is life. According to a study by The Nielsen Company, kids age 13 to 17 send more than 3,400 texts a month! That’s seven messages every hour they’re awake. With this knowledge, the National Safety Council is focused on efforts to eliminate distracted walking—specifically walking while texting.

“Distracted walking” has become such a big problem in recent years that Injury Facts, the statistical report on unintentional deaths and injuries published by the National Safety Council, now includes statistics on cell phone distracted walking. The report reveals that distracted walking incidents involving cell phones accounted for more than 11,100 injuries between 2000 and 2011. Nearly 80 percent of those injuries were due to a fall.

If you’re thinking, “My kid is too smart to do something so stupid,” think again. Just watch this short video for the proof.

Before your children head out, remind them of common sense tips:

  • Never walk while texting or talking on the phone.
  • If texting, move out of the way of others and stop on the sidewalk.
  • Never cross the street while using an electronic device.
  • Don’t walk with headphones on.
  • Be aware of the surroundings.
  • Always walk on the sidewalk if one is available; if a child must walk on the street, he or she should face oncoming traffic.
  • Look left, right, then left again before crossing the street.
  • Cross only at a crosswalk.

Let’s all do our best this school year to ensure our children are happy and, most importantly, safe at and around school.

If you have questions about any healthcare issue, contact the primary care providers at Coastal Carolina Health Care by calling (252) 633-4111 or by visiting www.cchchealthcare.com.

(Sources: National Safety Council; American Red Cross; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; N.C. Department of Insurance; Safe Kids North Carolina; and National Safety Council.)