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MRC News

Published on August 12, 2001
Lauren Fairburn
Health and Research News Service

JACKSON, Miss.—Returning to classes can be an exciting, but dangerous time of year, warns a Methodist Rehabilitation Center physician.

“Children are at increased risk of vehicle-related injuries at the beginning of the school year because there are so many more children on the road each morning and afternoon and because people often change their driving patterns,” said Methodist Rehab medical director Dr. Rahul Vohra. “It’s also a time when many teenage drivers are heading to school behind the wheel for the first time.”

Also, fewer daylight hours can make it especially difficult for drivers to see young pedestrians and bicyclists.

And, says Dr. Vohra, “Children who are getting on and off the school bus are at the greatest risk. Every year, more children are injured or killed while walking near a school bus than as passengers on the bus.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, school-age pedestrians accounted for a third of the total pedestrians injured in motor vehicle crashes in 1998. During the 1997-98 school year, 125 pedestrians ages 5-18 were killed during school hours in the United States

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the solution involves creating safer routes for children who walk to school. Routes should have slower traffic, more crosswalks and crossing guards and more sidewalks with wider surfaces and better views.

“Safer routes don’t just benefit school-age children, but also older and disabled pedestrians,” Dr. Vohra said.

There are other things we can do to make getting to school safer, he added. “For one thing, children need to wear bright clothing. Because they are so small, they are also less visible to drivers. If children are walking in dim light or darkness, they should have a flashlight and reflective material on their shoes or backpacks.

“It’s also important for adults to watch out for children when driving,” Dr. Vohra said. “Children have about one-third the peripheral vision of adults and aren’t able to see a car approaching from the left or right as quickly as an adult would.”

Drivers should always check their speed in designated school zones or near playgrounds or in neighborhoods where children could be playing. “And remember that in almost all traffic situations, pedestrians have the right-of-way. Be looking for them,” Dr. Vohra said.

Dr. Vohra offers the following tips for back to school safety:

  • Never try to pass a school bus that has stopped to load or unload passengers. Red flashing lights and extended stop arm signal the school bus is loading or unloading and that children could dart across the road.
  • Be Alert. Watch for children walking in the street, especially where there are no sidewalks. Watch for children playing near bus stops and ones who may be late and in a hurry and not paying attention to traffic.
  • Work with your children to learn and practice safety rules for walking, bicycling or riding on a school bus.
  • Students should always wear seat belts and a bicycle helmet.
  • Young children should always ride in the back of the car.
  • Parents should be good role models—always crossing streets safely and wearing seatbelts and bike helmets.

“Returning to school should be an exiting and fun time for students,” said Dr. Vohra. “ And it can be if they always think first before crossing streets or riding buses and remember to wear their seat belts.”

Each year an estimated 500,000 people sustain brain or spinal cord injuries in the United States. The most frequent causes of these injuries are motor vehicle crashes, falls, athletic activities, especially diving, and violence. Children and teens are at high-risk for these devastating injuries, many of which are preventable.

Methodist Rehab physicians and staff work together to promote Think First, a hospital-sponsored injury prevention program is aimed at young children and teenagers that tries to prevent spinal cord, brain and other traumatic injuries by focusing on bicycle, automobile, firearm, boat, swimming and diving safety. MRC organizes and staffs the central Mississippi chapter of Think First.