Aug 20, 2013 10:18 AM by MELISSA CANONE
Tens of thousands of Louisiana students return to classes in August, meaning drivers need to be extra careful to watch out for young pedestrians, school zone speed limits and those big yellow buses picking up and dropping off children.
With more than 800,000 children in public and private schools in Louisiana, the start of the school year means significant changes in traffic patterns in most parts of the state, especially around the morning opening and afternoon closing of schools. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of accidental death for children in the United States. According to preliminary statistics, 64 children ages 1 to 17 were killed in crashes in Louisiana in 2012, of which eight were pedestrians.
"The opening of schools means that thousands of school buses filled with children are back on our streets and highways," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. "Add to this the tens of thousands of students who are driven to school by their parents or carpools and ones who walk and ride bicycles, and you have the potential for lots of congestion."
Motorists are required to stop at least 30 feet away from a school bus that has stopped to load or unload children. Stopping is required by law whether you are approaching a bus from the opposite direction or traveling behind it. Motorists are not required to stop when a school bus is stopped in opposite lanes on a roadway separated by a ditch, grassy median, elevated concrete barrier or any obstacle that prevents traffic from driving thereon. A school bus that has stopped to unload or pick up passengers will extend its stop arm and activate its flashing red lights.
Drivers must take other safety precautions during the school year, such as slowing down and obeying the posted speed limit in school zones. All motorists should also be alert and watch for students, who may dart into the street without looking.
Additionally, drivers are responsible for making sure all children are in their age-appropriate seats and that restraints and seat belts are correctly fastened. Children who have outgrown safety or booster seats should be seated in the rear seats of the vehicle with seat belts properly fastened. Louisiana law requires all occupants -- regardless of age or seating positions -- to buckle up while a vehicle is in motion.
The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission also recommends parents and guardians help keep their children safe by teaching them these precautions:
? When waiting for the school bus, line up away from the street as the bus approaches.
? After entering the bus, find a seat and remain seated until the bus comes to a complete stop.
? When exiting the bus, always stop at the curb and wait for a signal from the bus driver before crossing the street.
· Children who walk or ride bicycles to school should be taught to look left, right and left again before crossing the street, to cross only at designated crossings, and to never dart out into traffic or enter the road from between parked cars. Young cyclists should always wear helmets.
Suggested Caption: This graphic shows what vehicles should do when approaching a school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off children.