Tips for getting kids back to school safely

WASHINGTON – The time of year that kids dread and parents love is coming around again: Public schools in Prince George’s and Frederick counties in Maryland will open their doors to more than 100,000 students tomorrow.

That means a lot of kids hitting the pavement, climbing into a school bus or jumping into a car, some making the trip for the very first time. And Deborah Hersman, the acting chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, says drivers and students alike need to be careful out there.

Drivers, Hersman says, must be alert and allow for extra time on their morning commutes. There will be 1,250 school buses on the road tomorrow in Prince George’s County alone, and it’s illegal to pass a school bus whose red lights are flashing and whose stop arm is out, unless you’re on the other side of a divided highway. She also reminds drivers that school bus cameras can be used to catch violators.

Meanwhile, Hersman says, the bus is the safest way for students to get to school. She says parents should teach kids to stay in their seats and to obey the driver.

If the bus isn’t an option, Hersman says, parents should practice walking to school with children, making sure they take the safest route, not the most direct one. Parents should also remind kids of the basic rules: Have reflective material on their backpacks; don’t listen to music with earphones while crossing the street; and of course, always look both ways before crossing.

For students who are old enough to drive themselves to school, Hersman advises parents to “adopt a driving policy in your household.”

Restrict the number of passengers, limit nighttime driving and make sure kids buckle up.

And for student and adult drivers alike, Hersman says, “Make sure you are completely focused on the driving task.” That means no headphones or cellphones.

Much of the rest of Maryland goes back to school next week; most of Virginia’s schools reopen after Labor Day.

WTOP’s Jamie Forzato contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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