For kids, it's often a time of dread, and for parents, it could finally mean a quiet household again: Back to school time is here again.
Back-to-school shopping is a rite of passage for parents and children alike, and as with previous years, families will be doing their fair share of buying, with the average household spending more than $630 per student on electronics, apparel, and other classroom essentials, according to estimates from the National Retail Federation. That's an increase of 42 percent over the last decade.
In an effort to save money – and help children get more exercise into their days to avoid childhood obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – parents are also having their kids walk their way to school. In fact, Oct. 7 is International Walk to School Day.
With more pedestrians on the roads, though, comes an increased risk for injury. And tragically, due to inattention on behalf of those walking or a driver, thousands of pedestrians die each year. In 2011, the latest year for which data is available, more than 4,400 pedestrians died after being struck by a vehicle, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"Walking and biking can be fun and healthy ways for our kids to get to and from school, but we all need to watch out for them," said Anthony Foxx, secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the NHTSA. "As parents, we should urge our children to walk and bike safely, but as drivers we have a special responsibility to be alert to kids walking and biking – particularly in school zones."
The following tips are ways that you as a parent can teach your children to walk safely to and from school, and what you as a driver can do to make sure others get there safely as well.
Be an aware walker
Everyone seems to be constantly looking at their mobile device these days, and kids are no exception. More schools are clamping down on cellphone use in the classroom, but that doesn't prevent them from using their phones on the way to the bus stop or school. Teach your children to always be looking where they're going to avoid going off course. According to the National Safety Council, between 2000 and 2011, more than 11,100 people were injured nationwide in distracted walking accidents.
Accompany young children
If you have a child who is less than 10 years old, it's a good idea to accompany them on their walk to school. Not only does this ensure they stay safe, but by joining them, you'll be able to demonstrate what it means to be a safe pedestrian, like by looking both ways before crossing the street and walking on the sidewalk or the grass if a sidewalk isn't available.
Always use crosswalks
It may be tempting for kids to cross the street whenever no one is coming from either direction. But crosswalks are there for a reason. To avoid jaywalking and to keep drivers alert, make sure to emphasize to your kids to use crosswalks.
Obey traffic rules
Everyone throughout the day has to commute, so you're sure to find yourself in situations on the roads where students are walking nearby, whether on your morning commute or if you leave the office for a late lunch. Practice common sense when you see kids walking near to the road by giving them plenty of space when passing by, following the speed limit in school zones, and always yielding to pedestrians when they're in crosswalks looking to get to the other side of the street.
By following these safety recommendations, the school year should be a walk in the park, figuratively speaking, of course.