Like thousands of other people, we are AAA members. Not having to worry that Dave is 50 miles away (his one-way commute) if I get a flat or a dead battery is like a comfort blanket to any mom who has ever been stranded in the rain/snow/heat wave/at nap time. I don’t have time to read most parenting magazines that I got myself a 20 year subscription to when I was pregnant, but I always read the AAA of Southern New England, and in the September 2013 edition, I made note of the school’s open, be safe vibe throughout.
As a cautious driver, and one who has been rear-ended by a texter, I know all-too-well the importance of driver awareness, but I also know that as a driver, we need to be cautious because others are not. Motorcycles fly through traffic with helmets strapped not to heads, but to the side of the bike. Runners wear black and run in the street. Cyclists ride the wrong way and disobey street signs and traffic patterns. Behind every rolling ball is a running child. With these thoughts in mind, I thought I’d take the “What my parents told me” approach… because I was never told if I got hit by a car it was the fault of anyone but myself… OF COURSE there are exceptions (in fact, I believe there are many)- but being aware whether you’re behind the wheel, in the cross walk, on a bike, with a motor or using your two feet, caution on all sides improves our chances of an accident-free day! Kids need to be just as aware and safe now that they’re back in school and likely not under as much of our watch as we’d like. Check out these driver tips from AAA:
So how do these 6 things apply to non-drivers and what lessons can we teach our kids?
1. Slow Down… I think this is true for everyone and goes to remind us to walk with the lights, understand street and traffic patterns, look left then right then left again before crossing. And take life, in general, a bit slower. Give yourself time to get where you’re going. Racing in between parallel parked cars or in lots only hides you from cars- if you’re dodging parked cars, you’re also dodging the moving ones.
2. Pay Attention… That cell phone in your hand? It’s a weapon against yourself. Texting while walking can lead to a number of accidents, including fatal ones. Cyclists on their phones, walkers stepping into traffic. Runners with headphones who cannot hear warning sounds (sirens, horns, brakes, etc.). And the scariest thought of all, our children changing their play list as they walk in front of or behind cars who never see the dangers as they pass right by, as was the case in 2009. It is simple: the same rules apply to pedestrians, cyclists and runners to pull over (STOP) if they need to divert their attention. Volume should be kept at a level that allows the sound of emergency vehicles and warnings, like a honk, to be heard.
3. Reverse Responsibly… This goes without saying for drivers, but my rule if you’re not in the vehicle? MAKE EYE CONTACT. If someone doesn’t see you, they can/will/might/could hit you. Of course they should see you, but after the fact, does it matter what should have happened when it clearly didn’t? As the mom to someone who will be shorter than average, I have a dialogue as I cross a parking lot now- reminding her to stay on the outside of the lot and not walk between cars, there is no right-of-way when 3,000 pounds of metal hits you, white lights means the car is moving back and not to cross just because there is a crosswalk if I car is coming- wait for them to signal they see you and will let you go. No white lines will protect you or your loved ones from being struck- especially if there is no specific light or sign.
4. Brake for Buses… Of course children on school buses have the signs, and hopefully they do not fear the rare driver who just can’t brake for the flashing lights, but what about public transportation? Children (and adults) who rely on public buses need to be aware of their exit site and when they can cross, if they need to do so in front of the bus. Many times drivers pull around a bus that is pulled over (even in single lanes)- crossing in front of bus or large vehicle leaves the passing cars blind to a pedestrian until they’re in front of the passing car. Best thought? Exit the bus, wait for it to move and traffic to clear before crossing. This same thought for cyclists (I had a friend hit by a public bus out of state): if you’re passing a huge bus, they won’t see you when they move back out into traffic. You’re not supposed to be in the middle of a lane, so they won’t look for you and they won’t see you. Be safe, slow it down and wait for the bus to pull out and give you back the right side of the road.
5. Stop Completely... I always say this to people coming up to corners who “have the green”. If you’re a pedestrian, you have nothing. The lights are for street traffic: cars and bikes. You, walker, have nothing but 150 pounds of gusto. Someone making a turn at that exact corner is trying to beat you so they won’t have to wait for your slow legs to cross. Do yourself a favor and stop- meeting in the middle could ruin a lot more than that 10 second wait at the corner could.
6. Watch for Bikes… I love this one. I do. I am a cyclist, but I am not insured. Perhaps this means nothing to some, but to me it means that I cannot afford an injury. I’ve also been ticketed (in Philly) for blowing a stop sign- I paid a minor ticket, but I was chased down by a bike cop (sort of an awesome fantasy turned reality turned REALLY?! all in the time span of 5 minutes). Moral of the story? Bikers WATCH OUT FOR CARS. I know we all want to be so bike friendly, and we’re allowed to be on the road- in fact in most cities it is illegal to ride on the sidewalks, but on the road, we need to act as cars. This includes street training; if your child isn’t confident riding in the street, practice before sending them out there. Being unsteady and unpredictable in traffic sets your child up for serious injury and drivers up for terrible accidents. One way streets are one way. Signal clearly with your arm. Obey ALL traffic signals. And STAY IN THE ROAD in traffic- like a pedestrian dodging between parked cars- you’re dodging between moving traffic on a bike. Unless the breakdown lane is visibly clear, just stay in the road, stay straight and let the cars pass. Ride single file. Don’t cross highways… you’re not faster than a car. No. You’re not. Threatening drivers with your U-Lock is a bad idea… drivers brake check. Flipping drivers off- also a bad idea. Best idea, act like you’re on a thin piece of metal made for speed, grace and the power of your body and you’re riding in the same lane with 3,000 pound motorized death traps that are notoriously driven by angry inattentive people who have never been on a bike and think your spandex is a joke. Be safe. Wear a helmet. Obey the laws. And wear a helmet. (Sobriety laws apply to cyclists, as well.)
I hope you all have a safe school year, and your kids learn some new self-awareness for their safety!