Idaho Transportation

Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 7129
Boise, ID 83707
Fax: 208.334.8563

Motorists urged to use caution in school zones

Many look as if they had packed for a week-long hike in the wilderness – bulging backpacks, lunch bags and water bottles, jackets and tennis shoes…

Their footsteps or their bicycle rides lead not to recreation, but to school. Journeys that are presumed to be safe are fraught with hazards when wandering minds and commuting traffic merge.

As Idaho’s children return to school this fall, motorists are urged to use caution, especially when driving along any school route or passing through designated school zones. With the excitement of school, children often are unaware of the dangers posed traffic.

The Idaho Transportation Department joins the Idaho Department of Education, school districts and parent organizations throughout the state in urging motorists to watch for children crossing streets and roads, and reminds drivers to observe traffic laws related to school buses.

“Until about age 10, most kids haven’t developed the skills to safely cope with traffic,” said Greg Fredericksen of ITD’s Office of Traffic and Highway Safety. “They typically act on impulse, they can’t judge car speed very well, and they assume that if they see you in a car, you can see them.”

Children mistakenly believe that cars can stop instantly for them, Fredericksen added.

In Idaho, 76 kids between the ages of 4 and 14 were involved in pedestrian-car crashes during 2004, 18 more than the previous year. Nearly one third (31 percent) of pedestrians killed were in that same age group.

Motorists must stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped to pick up or deliver school children if the bus displays flashing signals.

On a two-lane road, both following and oncoming traffic must stop and remain stopped as long as the red lights are flashing and/or the stop arm on the left side of the bus is extended.

On a highway with two or more lanes of traffic traveling in each direction, oncoming traffic is not required to stop when meeting a school bus. However, motorists still are urged to watch for children crossing traffic lanes while on their way to or from the bus.

Drivers also should use caution when traveling through school zones or near routes used by children and should observe school speed limits and the instructions of crossing guards.

Many Idaho school zones are identified by flashing yellow lights, and usually impose a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. School crossings are identified by warning signs (see accompanying image).

For children who ride school buses
Parents and teachers should encourage children who ride school buses to observe the following guidelines, provided by the National Safety Council, to ensure their safety:

  • When waiting for the bus, stay away from traffic and avoid roughhousing or other behavior that can lead to carelessness. Do not stray onto streets, alleys or private property.
  • Line up away from the street or road as the school bus approaches. Wait until the bus has stopped and the door opens before stepping onto the roadway.
  • Use the handrail when stepping onto the bus.
  • When on the bus, find a seat and sit down. Loud talking or other noise can distract the bus driver and is not allowed. Never put head, arms or hands out of the window.
  • Keep aisles clear -- books or bags are tripping hazards and can block the way in an emergency.
  • Before you reach your stop, get ready to leave by getting your books and belongings together.At your bus stop, wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting up from your seat. Then, walk to the front door and exit, using the handrail
  • If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk at least 10 feet ahead of the bus along the side of the road, until you can turn around and see the driver. Make sure that the driver can see you. Wait for a signal from the driver before beginning to cross. When the driver signals, walk across the road, keeping an eye out for sudden traffic changes.Do not cross the centerline of the road until the driver has signaled that it is safe for you to begin walking.
  • Stay away from the rear wheels of the wheels at all times.

School bus transportation is one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Every year, the nation’s 450,000 public school buses travel more than 4.3 billion miles to transport 23.5 million children to and from school and school-related activities. Students are nearly eight times safer riding in a school bus than in cars. The fatality rate for school buses is 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), compared to 1.5 per 100 million VMT for cars.

For children who walk or bicycle to school
ITD recommends children walk to school if they live within a reasonable distance of the school and they can do safely. The added daily physical activity is healthy and teaches important traffic safety skills.

Parents can help reduce traffic congestion in school zones by parking their vehicles and walking with their child to school. Walking or bicycling to school also reduces unnecessary air pollution.

The National Safety Council also suggests that parents review with their children the correct way to cross a street.

  • Adults should walk or bike with their children to school the weekend before classes resume to help determine the safest travel route. Set a good example by using crosswalks and wearing a helmet when riding a bike.
  • Youngsters should always stop at the curb or the edge of the road and look left, then right, and then left again before crossing. They should continue looking in this manner until they are safely across. Obey all traffic signals and/or the crossing guard. Never cross the street against a "don't walk" light, even if you don't see any traffic coming.
  • Be visible to others. Wear reflective material if walking or biking to school in low-light conditions. If a student's vision is blocked by a parked car or other obstacle, move out carefully to where drivers can see you and you can see other vehicles, then stop, and look left-right-left before proceeding.
  • If students' vision is blocked by a parked car or other obstacle, they should move out to where drivers can see them and they can see other vehicles – then stop, and look left-right-left again.
  • Help kids understand basic traffic rules that apply to them when they ride a bicycle.
  • Review hand signals for stopping and turning.
  • Always wear a bike helmet when riding to school. According to the transportation department, kids ages 4-19 make up the majority of bicyclists involved in collisions in Idaho, and a helmet is the most effective way to prevent head injuries.
  • Kids say they would wear a helmet if parents made it a rule, according to a recent study.

Safety tips to share with your kids

  • Never accept a ride from a stranger. If someone stops to offer a ride, make sure you remain more than an arm’s length away and be prepared to run. Pay close attention to what the individual looks like, the kind and color of the car, and if possible, the license plate. Report all suspicious offers to a trusted adult.
  • Walk with a friend or in groups. Pre-select a route and don’t take shortcuts or side trips. Parents should know where to find you if necessary.
  • Obey all traffic signals and/or crossing guard – never cross the street against a light, even if you don't see any traffic coming.
  • Walk your bike through intersections.
  • Wear reflective material ... it makes you more visible to traffic. Don’t listen to loud music while wearing headphones – they prevent you from hearing approaching vehicles.

For more safety tips, visit: