Five Safety Tips for Drivers: Back-to-School Traffic

School buses stop and start in front of you as they pick up and drop off pupils. Kids on bikes race to reach their classrooms before the bell rings. And harassed parents rush to deliver their little ones to school before work. When school’s out in the afternoons, it’s the same in reverse.

To help cope with back-to-school traffic and keep you and others safe on the roads, here are five safety tips for drivers.

1: Be aware of school run times

A typical school day runs Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm. But timings can vary from school to school. Some fee-paying schools can start as early as 8 am and open on Saturdays for morning lessons and afternoon matches too. So do bear that in mind if you’re heading out on the roads at weekends.

The school run is usually for about an hour before and after the school day and tends to coincide with rush hour. The morning school run time is usually busier than the afternoon. When lessons are over for the day, children often have sports activities, after-school clubs, or just hang out with friends.

Do remember, from late September the nights start drawing in. By mid-winter, dusk comes early, around 3.30 pm just when children may be walking home from school. Take extra care driving near schools in the late afternoon in the winter months when visibility is poorer.

2: Slow down in school safety zones – 20 is plenty

The urban speed limit of 30 mph is still too fast to drive safely in school zones. That’s why many local councils have introduced a 20-mph speed limit in a fixed zone outside schools. Stick to it. Sometimes you may find you need to go even slower, so use your own judgement.

Look out for other traffic-calming measures too. In Leicestershire, one local authority has introduced painted, child-shaped bollards, to urge motorists to be more careful behind the wheel. To reduce the risk of accidents and force drivers to slow down, councils are also installing speed bumps or altering the road layout around schools. Be prepared to give way to oncoming traffic when you’re driving in school zones. Particularly at drop-off and pick-up times.

3: Share the road

With school buses

If you’re driving behind a bus, hang back. Allow a greater stopping distance than you would following a car. It means you’re prepared when the bus stops to pick up or drop off children at the side of the road. Remember, these stops aren’t always at regular bus stops. In country lanes, children will be dropped on the verge.

The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children. Make sure you stop far enough behind to allow them space to safely enter or exit the bus. And, tempting as it is when you’re in a hurry, don’t overtake. There could be children crossing the road in front of the bus you can’t see from behind.

Keep your eyes open. Stay alert. Children can be unpredictable. They’re not drivers, so they’re not trained to notice potential hazards. And they’re more likely to take risks without realising the consequences.

With cyclists

The most common collisions between cars and bicycles are caused by a vehicle turning left in front of a cyclist. Always check your nearside blind spot before you make a left turn. Especially when you’re stationary at traffic lights or a junction. Cyclists can come up on your inside left without you being aware of them.

Kids on bikes present special problems for drivers. They’re less able to properly determine traffic conditions. And unless they’ve passed their cycling proficiency test, they’re less likely to signal when manoeuvring. If they’re cycling on pavements, they may not look properly before they head across a road. Be vigilant. Expect the unexpected from kids on pushbikes and scooters.

Make sure you’re aware of the new rules around safety for cyclists. They came into effect in January 2022.

Points to note:

  • When overtaking cyclists, drivers should now allow 1.5m. In slow-moving traffic cyclists (and pedestrians) may pass vehicles.
  • Drivers should not turn into a junction if doing so would force a cyclist to stop or swerve
  • Cyclists may now ride two abreast, particularly in large groups or if accompanying a child.

With pedestrians

Children often walk to or from school alone or in groups. Either way, they might not be paying attention to the traffic. Eyes down, they may be looking at their mobile phones instead of the road or distracted as they chat with friends. Be prepared. They may just step out into the road in front of you.

Safety tips for drivers and vulnerable road users

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has useful advice for drivers and vulnerable road users. Vulnerable road users are pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, or horse riders, who have less crash protection than drivers and passengers in cars. Less protection means there’s a much higher risk they’ll be injured or killed in a collision.

The RoSPA’s top tips?

  • Be patient. Give others time and room.
  • Be ready for others to make mistakes.
  • Watch your speed.

4: Watch the weather

Take extra care on the roads in urban areas and around schools when it’s raining. Expect the unexpected as pedestrians make a dash for it to avoid a soaking. A child or adult could run in front of your vehicle at any moment.

5: Safety tips for parent drivers

It’s not a ‘them and us’ situation. Parents have a responsibility to drive safely during term time too. The trouble is when you’re in a rush, and the school zone is congested, the rules can fly out the car window.

Schools usually have very specific drop-off rules for parents, such as:

  • Don’t double park; it blocks visibility for parents, children, and other drivers.
  • Unload children on the school’s side of the street, not across the road.
  • Share school runs with other parents where possible. It reduces the number of vehicles around the school at pick-up and drop-off times.

Set an example for your children. Stick to the school rules. They’re for other children’s safety as well as your own.

September 15, 2023