So you and your child have decided it’s time for her to make the trek to school on her own. Kudos! It’s kinder to the environment than catching a ride, plus daily walking or biking is a big health boost. But does your child know how to stay safe on the way to school?
Stranger abduction may be one of a parent’s biggest fears, but the reality is the risk on the way to school is tiny. Still, your kid needs to know the basics. “The number one rule is never go anywhere with anyone without a parent’s permission,” says Samantha Wilson of Kidproof, an international child safety organization based in Vancouver. Your child should keep his distance from cars, especially if a driver stops to talk, and should travel in a pack if possible, with at least one cellphone for the bunch. “The buddy system does work, as long as one of the children is capable of making a safe choice,” says Wilson.
Walk the route with your child and point out houses or businesses well known to you, where he can seek help if he gets a bicycle flat or is concerned about a stranger.
Teach your child to use an intersection or crosswalk for getting across the street, and to do it properly: No darting out or cutting corners. She needs to wait until the traffic stops, and make eye contact with drivers before stepping out. Your child should walk, not ride, her bike or skateboard across streets. “Otherwise, you may not be able to stop or change your direction [quickly], or you could fall off your bike in front of a moving car,” says Constable Brian Palmeter of the Halifax Regional Police.
Watch what your child wears when he’s biking to school: He should have bright clothing, secure footwear (no flip-flops or slip-on sandals) and a helmet that fits. Check for dangling dangers, such as backpack straps, shoelaces or pant legs that can get caught.
Street safety also depends on your child being alert to her surroundings, so make sure she’s not distracted by an MP3 player or hindered by a sweatshirt hood when she heads for school.
“It’s important for parents to know what company transports their children and what the route number is,” says Jane Wilkinson, of Lindsay, Ont. She’s the regional safety manager for First Student, an international bus company. “If the child doesn’t get off at the right stop or is left behind at school, and the parent calls, they assume we know what bus their child is on.”
Your child should beat the bus to the stop by a few minutes, so he’s visible and off the road when it arrives. And he should be at enough of a distance to see the driver’s eyes — especially important when he gets off and crosses in front of the bus.
Students on the bus must stay seated and facing forward, with feet out of the aisles and arms away from windows. “The seats are designed as little padded compartments,” says Wilkinson. If kids sit properly, they’ll be safer if the driver brakes or turns quickly.
If you’re still trying to decide whether your child is old enough to undertake the journey on his own, you’ll have to be the judge of that. Experts agree that there’s no “right” age and it depends on a number of factors, such as his maturity, the traffic, and whether there are crossing guards on the route.