As the temperatures start to drop and children return to school, the Toronto streets change. In addition to more traffic and congestion from children heading back to school, there are more pedestrians and bike riders on the roads.
According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), children 5—14 are at the highest risk of being involved in a pedestrian accident. Their smaller stature makes them more difficult for motorists to see, and their impulsive movements make their actions unpredictable. Many of these pedestrians lack the judgement to keep themselves safe.
Luckily, there are laws in place and things you can do to help protect all children on their way to or from school, including your own.
On the Road
With more children out on the streets, there are more opportunities for accidents. When you get behind the wheel of a car during school hours:
- Drive the speed limit. Running late or rushing to get the kids to school before work is no excuse to compromise safety. It’s a better idea to leave a little earlier so you can have more time for unexpected delays on the way to your destination.
- Be alert for children crossing at intersections. Although many school zones have crossing guards, many children have to cross multiple streets before they reach the school zone. If you are traveling within a mile of a school, take extra care to compensate for children who may run or ride into the road unexpectedly.
- Stop for school buses. The law requires that you stop your vehicle at least 20 metres before a school bus that is stopped with its lights flashing. You must remain stopped until the lights stop flashing or the bus begins to move. Drivers on roads without medians must stop for school buses regardless of which direction they are traveling. Failure to do so may result in fines up to $4000, up to six demerits and a maximum of six months in jail.
- Give buses some space. Leave at least three car lengths ahead of you if you are driving behind a school bus.
- Put down your phone. Driving and using your phone is a dangerous combination in any situation, and can have tragic consequences when combined with back to school traffic.
The School Zone
School zones are clearly marked with yellow signs of two children walking and signs showing the reduced speed limit. They often have lights, speed bumps, and crosswalks with crossing guards to help children on the other side of the street get through the traffic safely.
Students may be traveling through a school zone at various times throughout the school day if they are running late, leaving early, or have a field trip or appointment, so it is important to be vigilant throughout the day.
When in a school zone, you must:
- Slow down. The 30-40 kph speed limit in Ontario school zones saves lives. Slowing to the speed limit as you pass schools gives you more time to react to the road ahead of you. Speeding in a school zone also carries heavy penalties with up to 4 demerits and fines up to $595.
- Expect the unexpected. Children often act on impulse, accidentally placing themselves in danger. It’s not uncommon for bicycle riders to cut between parked cars or for pedestrians to walk out into the street while looking at their phones.
- Refrain from passing other vehicles. You will need to wait until you leave a school zone to pass other vehicles, including buses. Passing is prohibited in a school zone.
- Stop and yield the whole roadway. When there is a crossing guard at pedestrian crossovers, school crossings and other locations, they have the right of way. Drivers and cyclists may proceed only after pedestrians and school crossing guards have crossed safely to the sidewalk.
- Yield to school buses. School buses always have the right of way. If their lights are flashing you must stop and wait.
- Don’t block the crosswalk. Plan ahead and don’t proceed into a crosswalk if you can’t immediately pass through to the other side. Stopping in a crosswalk forces pedestrians waiting to cross to wait until you leave it, or to walk around your car into the road where they can be struck by other passing vehicles.
Dropping Children Off at School Safely
With many vehicles ferrying their children in and out of the school in a short window of time, doing your part to follow school driving and parking rules helps reduce the risk of accident and injury.
As a parent, you should:
- Put down your phone. This is a high danger zone, where you need to be prepared for the unexpected. Keeping your eyes on the road is essential for everyone’s safety.
- Slow down and watch for children. Remember that children and adults may be walking in the parking lot. Driving slower gives you time to avoid them.
- Stop for crossing guards and school officials holding stop signs. They are there to keep your children safe as they cross the street.
- Follow traffic flow. Schools spend a lot of time and effort devising traffic flow plans that simplify pickup and drop-off and make the process more efficient. When everyone follows the prescribed route, cars and pedestrians can move more quickly and safely.
- Only stop in designated areas. Stopping unexpectedly, driving the wrong way, backing up, or parking where you’re not supposed to puts others at risk.
- Drop your children off directly in front of the school. Even though it may be more convenient for you to leave your children across the street, it is much safer to eliminate any unnecessary crossings and keep them out of the street.
- Carpool when possible. Carpooling greatly reduces traffic congestion, leaving fewer moving parts that can come into conflict.
Teaching Children the Rules of the Road
Adults need to be extra vigilant when driving around children, but is also important for parents to teach children to follow the rules of the road for their own safety. Although we can’t rely on children to always follow directions, making sure that they understand what is expected of them greatly improves the odds that they will do their part to stay safe.
With pedestrian-related injuries making up almost 15 per cent of all injury-related deaths of children under 14 in Canada, parents have a reason to be concerned.
Before your child steps out the door to walk somewhere, make sure that they follow these tips to help keep them safe as pedestrians:
- Walk on sidewalks, if available. If there are no sidewalks, walk against traffic as far to the side of the road as possible.
- Only cross streets at marked crosswalks or crossovers. Avoid crossing in the middle of the street and do not move into the street between parked cars.
- Wait until traffic has come to a complete stop to cross. If drivers do not appear to see you, do not proceed.
- Dress appropriately. Wear bright or light-coloured clothing, especially at dawn, dusk, or in the dark.
- Go on green. Wait for a green light or “Walk” signal, if at an intersection which provides one.
- Stop on yellow. Do not start to cross if the light turns yellow or if a “Do Not Walk” symbol starts flashing. If you already started to cross before this, continue walking to the other side.
- Stop on red. For your safety, wait for the green light, even if you think there is enough time to cross when the light is red.
- Watch for traffic and blind corners. Although drivers are supposed to watch out for pedestrians, keeping an eye out can make the difference with a distracted driver.
- Look both ways before crossing the street. If a car is coming, stay out of the roadway until it passes or comes to a complete stop.
- Exercise caution when crossing driveways. Drivers who are looking out for cars may not see pedestrians, especially when they are smaller children.
- Walk in groups. If possible, walk with a friend or group of friends to improve visibility and safety.
- Be wary of strangers. Never approach a stranger’s car, even if they are asking for directions. You are not under any obligation to speak to strangers and never get into a car with one for any reason. Run away and go to a place where there are people nearby. Yell for help if you feel that you are in danger.
Kids on bikes move much faster than pedestrians, giving them less time to respond to the unexpected. Following these tips can help keep them minimize their risk of injury.
Advise your young cyclists to:
- Always wear a helmet. Helmets need to fit well with straps that are properly adjusted so that the helmet sits on your head without shifting from side to side.
- Wear bright-colored clothing. This makes you more visible to motorists. Use bike lights if riding at dawn, dusk, or after dark.
- Ride single file on the right side of the road. Although riding side by side may be more fun, it also puts the person riding closest to traffic in danger.
- Cross like a pedestrian. Always come to a complete stop before crossing and look both ways before walking your bike across.
- Anticipate hazards. Bikes can move very fast. When that speed collides with someone or something, all of the forward momentum gets absorbed by your body at the point of impact. Keeping your eyes on the road ahead, slowing down and avoiding getting too close to people or cars can help prevent a collision.
- Use hand signals when turning. Drivers on the road respond better when they know what to expect. Hand signals tell then what you are planning to do so they can act accordingly.
When children follow proper bus etiquette, they make the ride much easier—and safer—for everyone involved. When parents take the time to instruct their children on what is expected, bus drivers can better focus their attention on the road.
When riding buses, children should:
- Arrive early and wait the bus stop. Children hurrying to catch the bus can make poor choices for safety, including darting in front of cars.
- Don’t approach too early. Line up for the bus at least five steps back from the road in a single file line. Wait until the bus is completely stopped with its doors open before approaching to get onboard or standing up to exit.
- Remain seated at all times. Sudden stops or turns can turn you into a human projectile, which can injure you or someone that you bump into.
- Practice good conduct. Obey the bus driver’s directions and refrain from distracting behaviour, such as throwing things or yelling.
- Cross 10 feet in front of the bus. Never cross the street behind a bus and make sure that there is at least 10 feet between you and the bus so that the bus driver can see you. Make eye contact with the driver before proceeding.
- Wear seatbelts, if available. Wearing seat belts helps to keep you safely in your seat if your bus gets into an accident.
Following these simple precautions can help keep everyone safer throughout the school year.