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By Connie Hempel

NAS Patuxent River Public Affairs

The new school year begins next week for many in Southern Maryland, which means hundreds of kids will crowd the roads again as they make their way to the bus stop and school.

As one of Maryland’s Choose Safety for Life campaign puts it: “As a driver, the most important thing you can do to protect children in school zones is to slow down.”

According to the Maryland Highway Safety Office, more than 800 students are killed nationwide each year going to and from school; tragedies that happen when pedestrians and drivers don’t follow the rules of the road. The state safety office offers the following tips for drivers, parents and students to consider to make each school year a safe year.

Drivers

- When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch for children walking or bicycling.

- When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking about getting there safely.

- Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood.

- Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.

- Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.

- Learn and obey the “alternately flashing warning light” system that school bus drivers use to alert motorists. Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to load or unload children. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped, and children are getting on or off. Motorists approaching from either direction must wait until the red lights stop flashing before proceeding.

Parents and Students

- Parents should teach their children these common sense practices to make school bus transportation safer.

- Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.

- When the bus approaches, stand at least three giant steps, or 6 feet, away from the curb, and line up away from the street.

- Wait until the bus stops, the door opens,and the driver says it’s okay before stepping onto the bus.

- When getting on the bus, stay away from the danger zone and wait for the driver’s signal. Board the bus one at a time.

- When getting off the bus, look before stepping off the bus to be sure no cars are passing on the shoulder (side of the road). Move away from the bus.

- Before crossing the street, take five “giant steps” out from the front of the bus, or until the driver’s face can be seen. Wait for the driver to signal that it’s safe to cross.

- Look left-right-left when coming to the edge of the bus to make sure traffic is stopped. Watch traffic when crossing.

- Never walk behind the bus.

- Walk three giant steps away from the side of the bus.

- If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up because the driver may not be able to see you.

- Supervise children to make sure they get to the stop on time, wait far away from the road, and avoid rough play.

- If you think a bus stop is in a dangerous place, talk with your school office or transportation director about changing the location.