Back to school COVID safety: transportation tips for kids and parents

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A new school year often brings a sense of excitement and anticipation for both children and adults. And with COVID-19 having disrupted so many of the “normal” experiences for children, this upcoming school year is no exception. While many of the details surrounding school are still in flux, one task that needs attention is solid, safe and reliable transportation for the kids.

School transportation is as varied as the children attending school. Options range from car or bus rides, walking or riding a bike. The location of the child’s home often plays the most significant role in determining which transportation works best. For example, if a family lives close to the school and there are adequate sidewalks, then walking may make the most sense. For others who live in a more rural area, taking the bus may be the only option. Whichever option is chosen, each family can follow basic rules and plans to ensure safety remains a top priority.

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Transportation breakdown

Whether a child is riding in a car or on the bus, walking or biking to school, each mode of transportation has its unique benefits.

Riding the Bus

During a typical school year, about 50% of all school age children ride the bus to school, which remains a popular option for numerous reasons. Riding the bus is not only cost-effective for the parents, but it has proven to be a safe and reliable choice. According to the American School Bus Council, when a child rides the bus, they are 70 times more likely to arrive at school safely versus traveling by car.

Keep these safety rules in mind when choosing the bus as the primary mode of transportation:

  • Take the children to the school ahead of time and show them where pick-up and drop off will take place.
  • Parents should plan on waiting with young children until the bus arrives.
  • Kids should be taught to wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before exiting the bus.
  • Remind children to stand a few feet away from where the bus comes to a stop.
  • As a driver, you should always slow down and stop if a school bus has flashing lights.
  • Parents and children should know not to cross the road or walk through the school parking lot unless the bus is completely stopped.
  • Parents and kids need to memorize the correct bus number and listen for school announcements with bus changes or other information.

Car riders

Having someone drop and pick up children in the car has a variety of benefits. Not only does it add flexibility with the schedules, but it also allows children the opportunity to spend more time with caregivers and siblings. Carpooling helps from both a social aspect and saving on fuel throughout the week. Car riding remains a popular option, with about 45% of students choosing this form of transportation. However, it can be more expensive with rising fuel costs and adds additional time for the drivers.

When a family chooses the car riding option, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Stay alert in the car line since multiple children and adults walk through the lanes and parking lot.
  • Have the proper car insurance coverage in case of an emergency.
  • Create a code word with your child if someone else will be picking them up, and teach them to ask the driver to say the word to them before entering the car.
  • Make sure everyone in the car is wearing their seatbelt.
  • Follow the school rules and flow of traffic when dropping off and picking up in the car line.

Walking/Biking

Walking or biking to school is another option offering flexibility for the morning and afternoon routine — both for parents and children. It’s also an excellent way to incorporate physical activity into a daily routine. Children who walk and bike to school are shown to have higher physical activity levels throughout the day, helping them meet the recommended 60 minutes of activity daily. This level of activity helps prevent childhood obesity and supports healthy bones.

Additionally, it helps older children learn greater independence or socialize if they walk or bike with other kids. While it’s a cost-effective, flexible and healthy option, walking or biking works best for families located close to the school and with limited exposure to traffic.

When walking or biking to school, it’s important to:

  • Look both ways and use designated crosswalks when crossing streets.
  • Make eye contact with drivers before crossing the road.
  • Pay attention to the surroundings (especially in the parking lot).
  • Walk in a group and on sidewalks, if possible.
  • Adults should plan on accompanying young children.

Making a plan with your child

Reviewing a safety and transportation plan ahead of time with each child helps answer questions about where they should go, what bus to get on (if applicable), or where to meet for the car ride. Your safety plan might address the following questions:

  • What time should your student be ready in the morning?
  • How much time do they need to wake up and get ready?
  • What does the morning schedule look like?
  • Where do they go after school to ride the bus or car home?
  • If they are taking the bus, what time does the bus come, and where is the bus stop?
  • If they are taking the bus, is the bus stop safe, and are they old enough to wait alone?
  • If they are walking, what is the route they should take?
  • Would it help if the route is mapped out?
  • What should the student do if they drop an item on the ground near school buses or other vehicles?

Another topic worth discussing is what your child should do if there is a change to the normal plans. For example, if the child misses the bus or if another adult is in charge of picking up in the car line, how is it handled? The parents and children should iron out a back-up plan, including how to get in touch with the parent or guardian if there is a problem. An emergency ID card, a parent’s number written in the backpack or a note with directions could be used when special situations arise.

A safety and transportation plan for school children is as essential to a new school year as buying school supplies and meeting the new teachers. Reviewing key details and safety tips for each transportation plan, whether it’s the bus, carpooling, walking or biking to school, sets students up for greater safety and addresses problems ahead of time.

Following this guide will help you and your family make the best decisions regarding school transportation and staying as safe as possible to and from school — no matter which form of transportation your family chooses.

Written by
Sara Coleman
Insurance Contributor
Sara Coleman has three years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, Reviews.com, Coverage.com and numerous other personal finance sites. She writes about insurance products such as auto, homeowners, renters and disability.
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