On Tuesday, August 25th, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and other safety organizations held a back-to-school safety rally at Trailside Middle School.
“We’re excited because it’s almost ‘show time.’…” LCPS Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams told a crowd of students and staff gathered in Trailside’s parking lot. “Every day we’re in school is an opportunity for us to fulfill our mission and our mission is empowering all students to make meaningful contributions to the world. Before we can even begin to fulfill that mission, we need to be focused on safety…”
“Transportation is less than 6 percent of our budget, but safety is 100 percent of what our bus drivers, bus mechanics and bus attendants are focusing on each and every day.”
NTSB Managing Director Thomas E. Zoeller noted the important role bus drivers play in students’ lives. “There’s an old saying amongst the school bus drivers who are here today that the person whose problems are all behind them is probably a school bus driver. It’s important for parents and teachers to teach the children to be good passengers on the bus and not problems by staying in their seat and quietly talking with friends so they don’t distract the driver.”
Zoeller said adult drivers need to be extra aware of children near bus stops because children may not be as aware of school safety as adults. “Be vigilant and, most of all, be patient. It’s your patience that will buy our children time to learn.”
The Virginia Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program was outlined by Program Coordinator Robert J. Williams. The Safe Routes to School program, which started in 2005, is about more than building up Virginia’s pedestrian infrastructure, Williams said. “You have to do more than putting in the sidewalk, putting in the trail, putting in a crosswalk. You need to take an all-encompassing approach to encouraging safety in the kids walking and biking to school. So we have what we call the ‘five e’s’ of Safe Routes to School; that’s engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation…
“The goal has always been; get more kids walking and biking to school and to allow them to do so safely.” By doing this, Williams said it’s hoped students will build healthy habits that last a lifetime.
Loudoun has received more than $1 million in Safe Routes to School funding. Two Safe Routes to Schools coordinators have been hired with a part of these funds to work with principals, parent groups and with the physical education curriculum to promote safe walking and cycling to school. Williams said a community can have the best network of trails and sidewalks but this is useless unless students know how to safely cross the street or properly fit a bicycle helmet.
Linda Watkins, the coordinator of Safe Kids Fairfax County, gave some common-sense safety tips to the crowd:
- When riding the bus, talk to kids about not running or horse-playing at the bus stop.
- Always cross in front of the bus and look both ways before crossing the street.
- If you are riding in a car, buckle up every single ride. “It doesn’t matter if your school is right up the street. Most crashes happen within five miles of home.”
- Every child under the age of 8 must be riding in an appropriate child safety seat. “It’s the law.” To determine if your child is ready to ride in a normal seat belt, have your child sit all the way to the back of the seat. Their legs should cross naturally over the edge of the seat and the seat belt should fit normally at its restraint points (hips and collar bone).
- If you’re riding a bicycle, scooter or skateboard, make sure you’re wearing an approved helmet. Further fashion tips: “Don’t wear loose or baggy clothing and wear closed-toe shoes.”
- “If you are under 10 years of age, please walk to school with a parent or an older sibling, because children under the age of 10 are not able to judge traffic appropriately yet.”
- No head phones, no cell phones or portable devices in use when you’re crossing a street. “Distracted pedestrian deaths are on the rise.”
Mary King, program administrator of Youth of Virginia Speak Out, a program of the Virginia State Police, said parents and teen drivers should have “driving contracts.” These contracts should include clauses about speeding, seat belt use, cell phone use, passenger restrictions and impaired driving. King said the contract should include penalties if any of the agreed-upon rules are broken. She added middle school students should seek permission before riding with a teen driver and should always buckle up.
Callie Clary, a peer-to-peer student trainer for Youth of Virginia Speak Out, re-emphasized the need for wearing seat belts. “Seat belts do save lives. They are your No. 1 defense in a car crash.”
Clary added passengers who distract drivers are more dangerous than cell phones. She reminded teen drivers that if you’re under the age of 18 you’re not allowed to text, use the GPS or make phone calls. “Shut it down. Turn it off. Put it away. I promise you it really can wait.”
Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman said message boards reminding motorists that school is in session are going up around the county along with speed-display signs. “There’s a lot of kids racing around, darting between buses – we want to make sure the drivers out there are obeying the law.”
The Sheriff’s Office will deploy 55 school crossing guards at elementary schools. Chapman said parents can do something else to help make their child’s walk to school safe. Be sure to take your child on a practice run along their walk route. Make sure there are no hidden areas along the route.
Another tip, walkers and cyclists should wear bright-colored clothing. “We’ve got to make sure everyone is paying attention…
“It’s a comprehensive effort. We really need to do this as a team.”