Parents and children will once again begin their daily commutes to and from school, as more than 1 million kids will soon head back or have already started back to school. Therefore, to keep kids safer during this busy time of year, AAA would like to offer some helpful reminders for both parents and children.

Distracted driving presents a number of dangers for kids walking or cycling to school. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) reported 19 pedestrians and two cyclists age 19 years and younger were killed, and 357 pedestrians and 494 cyclists were injured in traffic crashes in 2010.

As Arizona children head back to the classroom:

• Blaze a trail: If they are walking, map out a route to school or the bus stop and walk the route with your child ahead of time. Choose a direct route with the fewest street crossings or intersections that have crossing guards. Avoid walking by vacant lots and other sparsely populated places.

• Stranger danger: Teach kids never to accept rides or gifts from strangers.

• Buddy system: Have kids walk to school with a relative, friend or neighbor.

• Heady behavior: Arizona mandates kids younger than 18 wear a helmet. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent.

• Law and order: Drive no faster than 15 mph in or near a school zone. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, as few as 10 mph can be the difference between life and death, as a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 15 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed as compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 25 mph. Remember that fines double when “Stop When Children In Crosswalk” signs are present.

• Reduce distractions: Research from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. Avoid engaging in distracting behavior in order to be a safer driver and set a good example for young passengers.

• By the numbers: Teach your children their home phone number and address, your work phone number and how to dial 911 for emergencies.

In addition, remember that school zones are non-passing zones. Always stop for school buses that are loading or unloading students. It is illegal to pass a school bus — regardless of what side of the street you’re on — with flashing red lights or the “stop” arm extended.

Also, if your child will be walking or bicycling to school, AAA advises parents and caregivers to review these safety precautions with them, even if you’ve already done so:

• Walk only on the sidewalk, and cross the street only at crosswalks.

• Avoid walking in front of, behind or between parked cars. Even though they can see the vehicle, the driver might not see them.

• Always obey the crossing guard. Follow instructions, remain a safe distance from the curb and do not cross until the guard indicates that it’s safe.

• Avoid walking or bicycling with headphones or earbuds. Listening to music is distracting, and may make it more difficult for children to hear approaching vehicles.

Over the past two years, AAA has distributed almost 1,000 school crossing guard vests for free across Maricopa and Pima counties.

If learning to drive is on your teen’s syllabus this year, AAA’s teen driver safety website, Keys2Drive, provides information and resources for parents and teens. The interactive site provides state-specific licensing information, statistics, driver training tips and resources for parents and teen drivers.

• Linda Gorman is public affairs director for AAA Arizona. Reach her at (602) 650-2716.

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