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Although the Labor Day weekend marked the end of the “101 critical days of summer,” safety remains an important issue to personnel in the region, particularly as buses hit the roads and children return to the sidewalks during the new school year.

Jim Ganz, installation safety director at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bethesda, said commuter and pedestrian safety issues should be familiar to everyone, but need to be reiterated routinely to avoid accidents.

“The most important thing is, it is against the law and extremely unsafe to pass a school bus that is flashing its red lights,” said Ganz.

When following school buses, drivers are required by law to stop for buses picking up or dropping off children. Bus drivers will switch on yellow flashing lights when preparing to make a stop, and red lights when fully stopped.

“Even when the bus pulls away and it’s safe to go, still be aware because of that 10 foot radius around the bus where children are in the most danger of being hit,” Ganz added. “Stop your car far enough away and even after the school bus pulls away, just check and make sure that it’s all clear, because children are unpredictable. It’s up to us drivers to make sure the way is clear before we cross where a school bus was.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among children, with 20 percent of fatalities in children ages 5-9 involving pedestrian-related incidents.

For drivers sharing the roads with the increased school traffic, safety advocates warn to always be aware of pedestrians, especially when driving in school zones and residential neighborhoods. Naval District Washington (NDW) regulations and local laws throughout the capital region require drivers to stop for pedestrians in all crosswalks.

The NHTSA recommends all children under age 10 be supervised when walking near traffic, with adults teaching the children how to safely and properly navigate traffic to and from school or other activities.

While following the rules might seem safe as a pedestrian, the NHTSA advises that parents and caregivers teach children that they still must stop at intersections and look left, right, and left again before crossing, even with a green light and in a designated crosswalk.

“Teach children to walk, not run, across the street,” an NHTSA safety publication advises. “Each year, many children are killed when they suddenly dart into the paths of cars.”

Furthermore, rather than parents or guardians personally driving children to school, the NHTSA recommends school buses and other public transit as a better alternative not only for safety, but to ease congestion on the roads. According to the NHTSA and National School Bus Council, school buses replace as many as 17.3 million cars each year in and around school zones, also resulting in drivers saving more than two billion gallons of fuel and keeping more than 44 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air each year.

The NHTSA also cites school buses as the safest mode of transportation for school children, with less than one percent of annual average student fatalities resulting from bus accidents, as opposed to 23 percent by adult driver and 58 percent by teen driver.

The key point to commute safely for drivers and pedestrians alike, Ganz said, is being aware of one’s surroundings at all times. “Have situational awareness, and be patient,” he said.

For more information and resources on school traffic safety, visit www.nhtsa.gov. To stay up to date with news and events from around NDW, visit www.facebook.com/NavDistWash.