IT’S September again and of course that means it is back to school time for thousands of Irish children and their families across the country.
From purchasing school uniforms, school bags, books and stationery, the back to school to-do list has become increasingly long for families in recent years. One thing that should always be a top priority on the ‘to-do’ list is the importance of road safety.
Between 2016 and 2020, in Ireland, 41% of road crash school age child fatalities (aged 4–18) were passengers in a vehicle. Losing a child is a traumatic experience that no family or parent should ever have to endure. The majority of road collisions are always preventable, and everyone has a shared responsibility to ensure our roads are as safe as possible for our youngest and most vulnerable road users.
School Road Safety Guidelines
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has published new guidelines for schools aimed at helping them improve road safety around their schools. The new guidelines provide information and tools to assist schools develop and implement a road safety action plan, that would reduce the risk of any incidents occurring during the commute to and from school. The RSA’s new guidelines for ‘Improving Road Safety Around Schools’ are available on the RSA website and are a useful tool for parents and guardians, as well as teachers and school management.
The step-by-step guidelines will help school management to develop and implement a road safety action plan around the school gate to reduce the risk of injuries while students and staff are travelling to and from school.
It also gives valuable advice on identifying the areas of concern in a school environment and offers suggestions on how best to address these issues and where schools can get help.
In March 2021 the Safe Routes to School programme was announced, one of the measures outlined in the new guidelines The focus of the programme is on safety at the school gates, improving walking and cycling routes to school as well as providing cycle parking. This is being achieved by providing purpose-built walking and cycling facilities and in certain cases a complete reworking of a school’s entrance.
School children are our most vulnerable road-users and we want to encourage parents and teachers to continue the great work being done in schools and at home in promoting safe and responsible road use at all times.
Each school faces its own unique road safety issues depending on whether it is an urban or rural school, particularly during sc ool opening and closing times. Whether your child is walking, cycling, being driven or taking a bus to school it is critical that they are able to navigate their journey to school in the safest manner possible.
Before starting school make sure your child is familiar with their school surroundings and how they can be as safe as possible.
Young children should be accompanied when making their way to school. The reason for this is that young children have not developed hazard perception skills yet and are too inexperienced to navigate the many dangers that the road can present. Ideally children under the age of 12 probably shouldn’t travel to school alone, however, each parent is best placed to decide if their child is mature and old enough to do so. If your child cycles to school, ensure that they are wearing the correct fitting helmet and high visibility gear and if they are walking ensure they are wearing the correct visibility gear also.
Bus safety is an extremely important factor of overall road safety. Drivers not taking due care when approaching or passing a stationary school bus, unsafe pick up/drop off zones, unsafe pedestrian activity, unsafe bus stopping and not wearing the correct seat belts are just some of the main concerns we see around bus safety.
If you are hiring a bus for school transport, it is important to make sure the bus is safe and that the operator is legal and compliant. The statistics are surprising, during RSA and Garda checkpoints last year, one in two buses were shown to have defects. It is really important for anyone with a group of children in their care to take the necessary precautions when hiring a bus.
Safe Cross Code
If you have younger children, make sure to teach them the Safe Cross Code, recite it with them regularly and make it part of their school travel return. Whether you’re a teacher or parent make sure to keep road safety at the top of your checklist all year round and not just for the month of September. Road safety is an important life-long skill that could save your child’s life and the lives of others.
Back to School Safety Packs
The RSA’s Back to School pack contains everything school children need to travel to school safely. Schools can apply for RSA ‘Back to School’ packs by visiting: www.rsa.ie/backtoschool Primary school packs will include: a high visibility vest for every child starting school, ‘Going to School’ leaflets for junior infants entering education, as well as a Road Safety Promotional Pack including reflective bag strips to help students be more visible while on the roads and the ‘Educational News’ newsletter.