Back to School: Perfect time for safety refresher
CASTLE ROCK – More than 67,000 students are returning to school over the next week, making it the perfect time to discuss back to school safety with our kids, families and community. Whether students walk, bike, skate, ride or drive to school, it takes everyone to ensure they get there safely.
That has been the mission of Douglas County traffic engineer Amy Branstetter. For the past eight years she has worked directly with Douglas County School District staff, schools, parents and students to improve the safety around our schools.
“We want to encourage a lot more walking and biking to school,” Branstetter said. “The more that kids are walking and biking to school, the less congestion we have with vehicles, so the safer it is for everybody.”
She and her team have worked to analyze each and every school in unincorporated Douglas County—to ensure that students have safe routes and to address issues.
“Douglas County has worked to make sure there are safe places to cross,” Branstetter explained. “We do not mark every intersection with crosswalks. We mark the locations where we want the children to cross.”
She says the crossings and the sometimes accompanying school zone signals help drivers spot pedestrians and have been proven to save lives.
“The highest rate of accidents for children are kids who dart out between cars. It is always a good idea to have children exit the car on the passenger side, go down to the intersection,” Branstetter said. “Drivers expect kids to be crossing at the places that are marked and signed and sometimes have a crossing guard.”
According to Branstetter, a simple technique can help make a crossing even safer.
“Teach them to make eye contact with the driver of the vehicle. That is always a good indicator of if the car actually sees you,” Branstetter said.
Additionally, as students and families walk, remember these safety tips from the National Center for Safe Routes to School:
- Walk to school in a group. There is safety in numbers.
- Look for traffic at every driveway and intersection. Be aware of drivers in parked cars that may be getting ready to move.
- Obey all traffic signs and signals.
- Wear bright-colored clothes, and carry flashlights or wear reflective gear if it is dark or hard to see.
- Cross the street safely:
- Stop at the curb or edge of the street.
- Look left, right, left and behind you and in front of you for traffic.
- Wait until no traffic is coming and begin crossing.
- Keep looking for traffic until you have finished crossing.
- Walk, don’t run across the street.
Choose the safest route to school
- Select a walking route with less traffic and intersections.
- Pick places where there are sidewalks or paths separated from traffic. If there are no sidewalks or paths, walk as far from the motor vehicles as possible and, if possible, on the side of the street facing traffic.
- Limit the number of street crossings. When available, cross at a location with an adult school crossing guard.
- Avoid crossing busy or high-speed streets.
At the busier intersections, schools are encouraged to place crossing guards. The County and District work to ensure that those guards are well trained.
The following are some tips from Douglas County, when there is a crossing guard:
- Obey what the crossing guard is asking them to do.
- Wait two or three feet behind the curb.
- When invited by crossing guard, always walk. Do not ride bike, run or skateboard.
Douglas County has also worked with schools to mitigate hazards, by streamlining the drop off and pick up areas. Branstetter says that far too often parents place children in dangerous situations, because they’re trying to save a couple moments.
“I have seen parents drop kids off literally in the middle of the street and let them run across the street, because they’re in a hurry or they don’t want to wait in the drop off line,” said Branstetter.
In other cases, parents who may have driven carefully while dropping off students at school – speed off or drive distractedly as they head off to work, placing other kids in danger.
Here are some back to school driving tips from the National Safety Council:
If You're Dropping Off
Schools often have very specific drop-off procedures for the school year. Make sure you know them for the safety of all kids. More children are hit by cars near schools than at any other location, according to the National Safe Routes to School program. The following apply to all school zones:
- Don't double park; it blocks visibility for other children and vehicles.
- Don't load or unload children across the street from the school.
- Carpool to reduce the number of vehicles at the school.
Sharing the Road with Young Pedestrians
According to research by the National Safety Council, most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related incidents are 4 to 7 years old, and they're walking. They are hit by the bus, or by a motorist illegally passing a stopped bus. A few precautions go a long way toward keeping children safe:
- Don't block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn, forcing pedestrians to go around you; this could put them in the path of moving traffic.
- In a school zone when flashers are blinking, stop and yield to pedestrians crossing the crosswalk or intersection.
- Always stop for a school patrol officer or crossing guard holding up a stop sign.
- Take extra care to look out for children in school zones, near playgrounds and parks, and in all residential areas.
- Don't honk or rev your engine to scare a pedestrian, even if you have the right of way.
- Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians.
- Always use extreme caution to avoid striking pedestrians wherever they may be, no matter who has the right of way.
Sharing the Road with School Buses
If you're driving behind a bus, allow a greater following distance than if you were driving behind a car. It will give you more time to stop once the yellow lights start flashing. It is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children.
- Never pass a bus from behind – or from either direction if you're on an undivided road – if it is stopped to load or unload children.
- If the yellow or red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, traffic must stop.
- The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to allow them space to safely enter and exit the bus.
- Be alert; children often are unpredictable, and they tend to ignore hazards and take risks.
“The most important thing is that people remember the safety of their own children and the safety of all of the children that are going to school,” Branstetter said.
Branstetter is dedicated to that mission and encourages people to reach out to her office with any traffic-related concerns.
“I think that we have made great progress,” Branstetter said, before acknowledging that the work is not finished.
“It is really helpful to me to have the parents and schools contact me and let me know what they’re seeing. We will do whatever we can to improve the safety,” Branstetter added.
Branstetter can be reached at 303-660-7490 or by email at abranste[at]douglas.co[dot]us
In some cases the County has added crossings and flashing lights, to make it safer for our students. She, however, says that sometimes the solution isn’t always slowing traffic down.
She says that a reduced-speed school zone on Dad Clark Boulevard near Sand Creek Elementary and a nearby Christian school caused bigger headaches.
"The drive line for the Christian school had to go so slow in the reduced speed zone that they were having serious speed concerns. Drivers couldn’t get in and out of the school,” Branstetter said.
Recently, the County increased speeds and placed a new pedestrian crossing with flashing lights.
“I had people calling me. I asked them to give it two weeks,” Branstetter said. “I had several parents call me and say, ‘you were right.’”
National Walk to School Day is October 7.