Drivers: Watch for kids around school start and end times

Now that summer is over, it's time to start doing our part to avoid pedestrian and bicycle accidents involving kids. A lot of drivers are still in their summer groove and haven't started thinking about kids in the street, but they're out there now.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, school-age pedestrians are most at risk before school starts and after it lets out. More child pedestrians are killed between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and between 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. than at any other time.

There are three things you can do to reduce the chance of striking a child pedestrian or bicyclist. They all involve paying proper attention and not allowing yourself to become distracted:

Take steps to avoid backup accidents. Unfortunately, it's all too common for drivers to hit children when they are backing up. Children are small and can be outside of your field of vision, especially if your vehicle is not equipped with a backup camera. Be careful about relying too much on your backup camera, too -- children can be in the periphery and then enter your backup zone.

The best way to avoid hitting a child is to make sure you know exactly where any nearby children are headed. If you can't easily see kids who are walking or biking to school, you should walk down to the sidewalk before you even get into your car. Scan the area for kids and mentally mark their locations. Make sure they aren't near enough to enter your backup zone without warning.

Be vigilant when driving through the neighborhood. Just as you did before you backed out, you should scan the area for children whenever you are driving in a neighborhood or bus route. Although parents try to teach their kids to cross streets carefully, children often lack impulse control -- especially if they're running late or are distracted. They may dart into traffic. Little bikers are sharing the roadway with you, and they may not travel in a straight line. Some will be wearing ear buds, making it harder for them to hear your vehicle.

It is your responsibility to know where the kids are located so you have a chance of predicting their movements. Watch out for kids standing at bus stops, who may not always stay on the sidewalk. Slow down when you see crossing guards. Overall, your job is to stay vigilant.

Follow the law and stop for buses. In Alabama, you are forbidden from passing a bus with its red lights flashing -- in either direction of traffic -- unless you are on the opposite side of a highway with a physical center barrier. When the bus's yellow lights begin flashing, you need to stop. Do not race to pass the bus before it turns on its red lights and its stop arm comes out. Once the lights go on and the stop arm comes out, you must remain stopped until all children have cleared the street and the bus has begun moving again.

Not only will you be protecting children from traffic accidents, but you will also avoid a substantial fine and, in some cases, the suspension of your driver's license. Repeated violations of the school bus stop law result in higher penalties and longer license suspensions. A fourth offense is a felony.

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