Summer’s winding down and it’s time to kick off another school year. Whether it’s preschool, grade school, high school or college, a new school year means increased pedestrian and vehicular traffic in neighborhoods and around schools throughout the county. The changing season also brings in increasingly shorter days, less daylight and reduced visibility.
Traffic safety is a high priority for the Fairfax County Police Department. Starting Tuesday, September 5, police will be conducting education and enforcement efforts in school zones and bus stops across the county. Common infractions include passing a loading/unloading school bus, speeding in a school crossing zone and child seat/restraint violations.
In 2015, there were 48 crashes involving school buses; 147 citations issued for passing stopped school buses; 476 citations issued for speeding in a school crossing zone; and 1,131 citations issued for child seat/restraint violations.
We want to remind commuters, parents, students, pedestrians and bicyclists alike to:
- Stop for any school bus that has its lights and “stop arm” activated to load and unload children. Drivers must stop in both directions, unless separated from the bus by a median.
- Be alert when around school zones or buses.
- Build extra time into your schedule to accommodate the increased congestion and delay surrounding school start and end times.
- Familiarize yourself, and your children, with laws and safety tips related to school buses, school zones, crosswalks and signals.
- Become familiar with specific rules that pertain to young drivers if you are, or have, a teenaged driver in your household.
- Pay attention to your surroundings, on street or sidewalk; do not assume others see you or that you have the right-of-way.
Additional back-to-school safety tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) include:
- It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading children.
- Buses are the safest mode of transportation for children; however, kids need to be aware of the bus “danger zone,” blind spots around the bus where the driver may not be able to see them. Children should maintain a distance of 10 feet away from the front, sides and rear of the bus. (In average kid-speak, that’s five giant steps away from any side of the bus)
- Children should wait until the bus stops completely and the driver signals that it is ok to board; if crossing the street is necessary, wait for the driver to indicate it is safe to cross.
- Check out Tips to Increase Your Child’s School Bus Safety.
- Obey all signs, signals and crossing guards/police officers in school zones
- Slow down and be alert for children, walking or biking; they may be difficult to see and may appear suddenly and unexpectedly
- In low light and bad weather, pay extra attention around bus stops and school zones
- Do not block crosswalks or intersections (code section 82-4-33); look ahead to determine whether you can get completely across the intersection to avoid “getting stuck” in it or on a crosswalk.
- Check out Parents Central for more tips on keeping kids safe in and around cars.
- To increase safety, NHTSA promotes the “5 to Drive” rules: NO cell phones, NO extra passengers, NO speeding, NO alcohol and ALWAYS buckle up.
- Leave extra distance between you and the car in front of you, especially when in school traffic; anticipate frequent and unpredictable stop-and-go traffic; and look ahead for pedestrians and to avoid blocking intersections and crosswalks.
- Do not be distracted by electronic devices or passengers; be focused on the roadway, what’s ahead and what’s around you.
- Parents: Talk to your kids about traffic safety, even before they reach driving age, to get them thinking about it; set ground rules for your inexperienced driver and the consequences of breaking them.
- For Virginia laws pertaining to teen drivers: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/traffic/traffic-safety-education.htm
- For more information and suggestions on teen driving safety, check out Safe at the Wheel.
- Children should walk with a responsible adult and in a group.
- Make sure you walk on the sidewalk; if there is not one, walk facing traffic.
- Pay attention to the road and where you are going; do not play with, push or shove others.
- Wear brightly-colored clothing to be more visible to drivers.
- Cross at crosswalks, street corners or intersections; obey all signals and traffic rules when crossing. Look left-right-left for vehicles and bicycles and ensure the roadway is clear and safe before you step into the roadway.
- Pedestrians have an obligation to ensure the roadway is clear of, or safe from, approaching traffic prior to entering or crossing an intersection (Code Section 46.2-924).
- Check out this NHTSA brochure, Safe Walking Tips for Youth, for more child pedestrian safety information.
- Use the proper gear. Wear a helmet that fits properly and buckle it on every ride; ensure bicycles are appropriately sized to match your child’s size.
- Teach your child a bicycle is a vehicle, not a toy.
- Wear brightly-colored and reflective clothing to increase visibility.
- Utilize the sidewalk whenever possible; if you ride on the roadway, ride in the same direction as traffic.
- When riding on the sidewalk, you are expected to follow pedestrian traffic laws; when on the roadway, you are expected to follow motor vehicle traffic laws.
- Practice reduces the likelihood of falls or crashes. In a safe place, help your child build and strengthen basic skills, such as starting and stopping, looking over their shoulders and signaling to vehicles.
- Check out this link for tips and interesting flyers on how to be a “Roll Model” to your young bicyclist.
Everyone has a responsibility to maintain safety on the county’s roadways and around school zones. Visit this link for additional information on a variety of traffic safety topics: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/traffic/.
View this letter co-signed by Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Chief of Police, and John C. Cook, Braddock District Supervisor and Public Safety Committee Chair: Back to School: Keeping our Kids Safe on the Way to the Classroom