17:00 PM

AAA Urges Drivers to Stay Alert as Students Return to School

As students across North Dakota begin heading back to school over the coming weeks, AAA urges motorists to slow down, stay alert in neighborhoods and school zones and to expect the unexpected.

This time of year is particularly dangerous due to the combination of young inexperienced drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists who will all share the road in the early morning and afternoon hours.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 64 percent of child pedestrians killed in traffic crashes in 2021 occurred between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. (NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts).

"Drivers should have a heightened sense of awareness the moment they put the vehicle in gear," said Gene LaDoucer, regional director of public affairs, AAA – The Auto Club Group. "Excited children can move quickly and cross the road unexpectedly. You can reduce the chance of a terrible tragedy by staying focused, obeying the speed limit and being prepared to stop quickly," he added.

A new AAA survey reveals that many drivers admit to risky behaviors like speeding and using a handheld mobile phone while driving through a school zone. The survey found that 42% of North Dakota drivers admitted to speeding in an active school zone, and 30% admitted to using a hand-held cell phone while driving in an active school zone.

The AAA School's Open Drive Carefully awareness campaign was launched in 1946 in an effort to prevent school-related child pedestrian traffic crashes.

AAA offers tips to help keep kids safe this school year:

Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster. A difference between 25 mph and 35 mph can save a life.

Eliminate distractions. Children often cross the road unexpectedly and may emerge suddenly between two parked cars. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing.

Reverse responsibly. Every vehicle has blind spots. Check for children on the sidewalk, driveway and around your vehicle before slowly backing up. Teach your children to never play in, under or around vehicles—even those that are parked.

Talk to your teen. Car crashes are one of the leading causes of death for teens in the United States, and more than one-quarter of fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 to 7 p.m.

Come to a complete stop. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.

Watch for bicycles. Children on bicycles are often inexperienced, unsteady, and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and the bicycle.

Stop for school buses. Motorists are required to stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing and STOP arm extended. The only exception is upon a highway with separate roadways and the bus is on a different roadway. Thirteen percent of North Dakota drivers admit to having driven around a school bus while its red lights were flashing and its stop arms are extended.

Include safety in education. Advise your children to use sidewalk, cross at marked crosswalks and to avoid texting or wearing headphones so they can detect nearby traffic. While waiting for a school bus or to cross a street, they should stay at least five feet from the roadway and avoid horseplay. If riding a bike to school, a properly fitted helmet should be worn. Safety resources for children of all ages can be found online at www.AAA.com/Educator.