Walking to school is wonderful for kids because they get exercise, which can help with focus at school and their overall health. It can be also be a time to talk with friends or family and build community bonds.
But it also can pose dangers, especially if drivers are distracted talking to their own children or texting. Please stop texting and driving. Don’t touch your phone at all while driving. Calls and texts can wait. If they can’t, pull over and check the message while parked.
Talk to your kids about safety.
- Kids should walk with an adult until they show the maturity to walk safely without direct supervision. The specific age will depend on the area as well as the child’s maturity. Are there safe sidewalks? Are there busy roads to cross? Are there other kids walking the same route? Are there homes along the way they can go to in case of emergency? How long is the walk?
- Find the safest route: Choose sidewalks wherever possible, even if that means the trip will be longer. If there are no sidewalks, walk as far from vehicles as possible, on the side of the street facing traffic. If possible, avoid areas near high schools, where there are more teen drivers.
- Cross streets safely. If there are crossing guards, use those intersections. If there are street lights, wait until the “walk” symbol appears. Never cross in the middle of a block, use intersections. Look both ways twice before crossing. Do not text or play games when in the street.
- Remind kids that if they are crossing a street, they should make eye contact with a stopped driver before crossing, even if there’s a “walk” symbol. Drivers turning right might turn on red and not notice small pedestrians.
- Teach kids to use the same route every day or discuss which route they will take each day if they use different routes. If they don’t arrive to school or home as planned, you know the route to search. Walk the routes with them until they know how to safely navigate each.
- Have kids stay in groups or with a walking buddy as much as possible.
- Avoid distractions. Listening to music (especially with earbuds), playing video games, watching videos, and texting all keep kids from paying attention to their surroundings. Even talking on the phone is distracting, so don’t assume they are safer if they talk to you all the way home when you’re at work. They are more likely to trip and fall, step into a street without looking first, or not notice that they’re being followed if they’re distracted. They should be aware of their surroundings at all times.
- Remind kids to never accept a ride from anyone unless you pre-plan it. Rain, snow, and cold weather make it tempting to hop in a car, so have kids dress appropriately for the weather and arrange safe rides as needed.
- Have kids keep important contact information in their backpacks in case of emergency. At least two people should be on this list. People on the list could include a parent, grandparent, or trusted adult friend/neighbor. Names and phone numbers should be included.
- Related: If they are riding a bike, scooter, or skateboard to school, they should follow the rules of the road and proper safety.
See if your school can help arrange walking buses, where kids all walk the same route to school with adult walk leaders.
Suggestions for adults:
- Be extra cautious when driving in the before and after school times, especially near schools and in neighborhoods.
- Be nice and don’t use your sprinklers in the before and after school times so kids can stay on the sidewalks and not wander into the street to avoid getting wet.
- Never text and drive. Put your phone on silent and in a place you can’t reach it while driving. Texts can wait.
- If kids are in your car, make sure they are properly buckled. Only teens and adults should be in the front seat. Use an appropriate car seat or booster seat. Kids shouldn’t wear their backpack in the car, nor should they unbuckle while in a drop off line to get their backpack on before the car is stopped.
- If your kids will carpool with other families, be sure they are in proper seats at all times. It’s tempting to not use boosters for short drives, but it’s never safe to have kids improperly restrained. Find boosters that are easy to move between cars.