Getting to and from School Safely
By Dr. Charlotte Hendricks

When children come to your school or child care program each day, do you think about how they arrived or how they will return home safely? Whether a child is transported in a vehicle, carpool, bus, or walks to school, there are safety issues to keep in mind. Let's look at some basic transportation safety guidelines you can share with your children, their parents, and your own colleagues.

Driver Qualifications
All drivers in a child care program should have a current license to drive a specific type of vehicle; for example, bus drivers should have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). In addition, all drivers should have a good driving record, a criminal background performed, and attend regular vehicle and driving training. Drivers should not use alcohol within 12 hours prior to transporting children or use prescription drugs that could impair their ability to drive. Use of illegal drugs should be strictly prohibited.

Since safe transportation of children is a driver's top priority, potential distractions should be avoided. When you transport children:

  • Know where you are going. Don't try to read a map or instructions once the vehicle is in motion.

  • Avoid cellular phone use.

  • Avoid loud or distracting music or other noises. Not only can these be distracting, they can prevent you from hearing outside sounds such as approaching emergency vehicles or train whistles.

  • Do not eat or drink.

  • Always check both ways at railroad crossings, even those with flashers and safety gates.

  • Keep the vehicle clean and store items securely.

  • Do not allow pets in the vehicle.

  • Teach children safe riding practices. They should stay buckled in their seats, keep conversation to a moderate level, and know not to hit others or throw objects.

The Vehicle
All vehicles should be equipped with seat-belts (this requirement will soon include busses), inspected on a yearly basis, and have regular maintenance checks that include an oil change, tire inspection, and brake service. Drivers should be trained to perform pre-drive, daily inspections and to report any problems or 'funny noises' with the vehicle. Vehicles should have working heat and air conditioning and should be heated or cooled before any children are loaded.
Loading and

Unloading
During loading and unloading, the vehicle should be in park, with the brake set, and the motor off. Park where children can go to and from the vehicle without crossing traffic areas or parking lots, and be sure there is someone on the ground to assist children during loading and unloading.

For daily transport of children, designate safe pick up and drop off points and inform the parents. The parent or other responsible adult should stay with the child until the child boards, and be there again to meet the child after school.

Count Heads
Before beginning any trip, count children to be sure you didn't leave anyone behind or on the vehicle. When transporting for field trips, count children as they leave the school, in the vehicle, as they exit vehicle, and inside the designated building or area. Walk through and check all seats to be sure a child isn't 'hiding' from you, or sleeping in a back seat.

Routing
Transportation routes should minimize children's travel time; no more than one hour per one- way trip. When planning trips, avoid routes that require the vehicle to make a 'U' turn or back up. Plan stops to minimize traffic disruptions, give the driver a good field of view, and eliminate the need for children to cross a street or highway.

In Case of Emergency
Before transporting children, drivers or attendants should have with them a file containing all essential information on each child, as well as authorizations and contact information. All drivers should know and keep in the vehicle the quickest route to the nearest hospital from any point on their route. Each vehicle should also be equipped with a communication system, such as a cell phone or two-way radio. Vehicle emergency equipment includes a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and seat belt cutter.

Dr. Charlotte Hendricks, assistant editor of HealthyCHILDCare, specializes in the health and safety of young children and can be reached by email at chendricks@wwisp.com. For information about her health and safety resources, please visit www.childhealthonline.org.