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Our Opinion: Motorists - stay alert as kids go back to school

On Tuesday, kids across the Brainerd lakes area will be putting on their new school clothes, grabbing their lunches, hoisting their backpacks and heading out the door for their first day of school.

There probably also will be words of encouragement and a few helpful reminders offered from parents for children adjusting from summer vacation to a more structured school schedule.

It's also a good time for a few helpful reminders for motorists to be alert on area roadways. With school starting there will be more kids on our city streets and county roads, whether they're walking, busing, biking or riding in a car to and from school.

According to the Transportation Research Board, about 100 children across the U.S. are killed each year while walking to or from school and about 25,000 are injured. While no such tragedies have struck the Brainerd area recently, we are not immune. That's why it's important for motorists to stay vigilant.

AAA recommends drivers observe the following guidelines to help keep children safe:

• Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. Children can move quickly; crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by not using your cell phone or eating while driving, for example.

• Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.

• Come to a complete stop. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.

• Reverse responsibly. Every vehicle has blind spots. Check for children on the sidewalk, in the driveway and around your vehicle before slowly backing up. Teach your children to never play in, under or around vehicles.

• Buckle Up. Use safety belts and appropriate child safety seats or booster seats when transporting children. The safest place in cars for children younger than 13 is the back seat.

• Watch for bicycles. Children on bicycles are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least 3 feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist. If your child rides a bicycle to school, require that he or she wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet on every ride.

• Talk to your teen. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and nearly 1 in 4 fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

We'd also add that motorists should be mindful of school buses picking up and dropping off kids before and after school. The recommendation from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is for vehicles to stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights and/or its stop arm is extended when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads.

Safe travels everyone. Be alert, be safe and let's have a great 2018-2019 school year.

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