It’s that time of year again. School is back in session, and students have returned to the classroom. This sentiment may not seem significant for drivers who don’t have children or who aren’t students themselves, but the beginning of the school year ushers in its fair share of new variables to contend with on the road. Between busy school zones, full school buses, and increased bike and pedestrian traffic, all drivers can benefit from a refresher on how to safely adjust to the changes that the new school year brings.
If you’re a driver who wants to help keep the roads safe as the summer season fades out of view, here are a few key safety tips to keep in mind:
Be Mindful When Driving Near School Zones
During the summer months, you may have gotten used to driving at higher speeds through school zones. Additionally, many school campuses were closed or only sporadically open during the past year due to Covid-related shutdowns, so you may not have dealt with active school zones for a long time. However, now that schools are back to holding in-person classes, drivers need to be mindful of slowing down and obeying the reduced speed limit in these designated areas. School zone laws are put in place to keep students safe, and drivers who violate these laws face the possibility of incurring hefty fines.
It’s a good idea to be extra cautious around these areas even during times when the yellow lights on school-zone signs are not flashing. Students often congregate on campus outside of class-time, such as to spend time at the playground or attend an after-school function, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to be extra diligent in keeping a watchful eye out when driving near schools.
Follow Colorado’s Laws Regarding Stopped School Buses
When you approach a stopped school bus that has its red lights flashing, Colorado law states that you must stop at least 20 feet away from the bus until the lights stop flashing. This applies if the bus is stopped on the same or opposite side of the road as your vehicle, and it’s also applicable when a bus is stopped at an intersection. However, if the bus is traveling in the opposite direction as you and there is a median between your vehicle and the bus, you aren’t required to stop.
When the lights are flashing, children are exiting or boarding the bus, and the lights will continue to flash until the driver ensures that the students are safely out of the road lanes. Following this rule will help keep students safe, and you’ll also save yourself from earning large fines as well as multiple points on your drivers license. For a first offense, the penalty involves a several hundred dollar ticket, a court appearance, and six points added to your drivers license, and a second offense can result in a substantial fine of one-thousand dollars.
Prepare for Driving with More Pedestrians, Bicyclists, and New Drivers on the Road
With school in session again, you will likely encounter more pedestrians, bicyclists, and new drivers during your travels. While the idea of your daily commute becoming more complex may stress you out, the good news is that there are many steps you can take to minimize frustration and keep all parties on the road safe, including:
- Leaving early. If you notice more traffic than usual during your daily commute, or you find yourself waiting more frequently for pedestrians at crosswalks, leaving a little earlier can ensure that you arrive at your destination safely and on time.
- Being especially cautious around crosswalks and public transit stations. Pedestrians are often distracted by listening to music or checking their phones, so it’s important to be extra diligent in making sure the coast is clear before you make a turn or drive through a crosswalk. It’s also important to not block the crosswalk. This can force pedestrians to walk around or behind your vehicle, which puts them at risk. Additionally, many students take public transit to school, so be extra mindful of pedestrians when driving near bus stops or light-rail stations.
- Being mindful of sharing the road with cyclists. Many students bike to school while the weather permits, so take extra caution to share the road safely with those who choose to travel by pedaling to their destinations. Opening your vehicle door cautiously, staying out of bike lanes, informing yourself on cyclist hand signals, and providing the required three feet of distance when passing a bike can go a long way in keeping the streets safe for everyone.
- Exercising patience with new drivers. All seasoned drivers know that other motorists can occasionally make frustrating maneuvers, but it’s important to remember that some of them aren’t being reckless or inconsiderate; they may be newly licensed drivers who are adjusting to driving independently. Many teens get their drivers licenses over the summer, and driving to school is often one of the first unsupervised experiences they have behind the wheel. If you encounter a driver who drives a little slowly or waits longer than necessary to make a turn, try to give him/her the benefit of the doubt and exercise patience.
Talk with Teen Drivers About Important Safety Precautions
Speaking of teen drivers, parents can help keep their sons and daughters safe by discussing important safety precautions before giving the go-ahead to drive to school unsupervised. If you’re a parent of a newly licensed motorist, important things to address include:
- Reminding your teenager about how to safely drive in busy parking lots. High school parking lots are full of novice drivers, which can be especially stress-inducing for parents to think about. Encouraging your son or daughter to arrive early, drive slowly, reverse cautiously, and signal properly can help keep him/her and the vehicle safe.
- Establish clear expectations. It’s important to highlight the important safety measures that you expect your teen driver to follow in order for him/her to continue to drive independently, such as wearing a seatbelt, following the speed limit, and avoiding distractions behind the wheel. Discussing the importance of avoiding cell-phone use while driving, selecting the music before putting the vehicle in motion, and following peer-passenger laws can help ensure that your adolescent adopts healthy behind-the-wheel habits.
- Suggest alternatives to driving if your teen is tired or emotional. Teenagers are notorious for staying up late and also for being prone to experiencing intense moods, but driving while drowsy or upset is never a good idea. If your son or daughter is running on only a few hours of sleep or is expressing strong emotions, it’s a good idea to find an alternative way for him/her to get to school.
The beginning of the school year brings in a wave of new elements for drivers to contend with, but with proper planning and a healthy dose of precaution, you can easily navigate these changes without stress. Staying informed on Colorado laws involving school buses and school zones will help keep students safe, and doing so will also protect yourself against costly traffic citations. Additionally, preparing for driving around an influx of new drivers and non-motorists can help you get to where you need to go with minimal frustration. By being preemptive rather than reactive, you can successfully keep yourself and other parties on the road safe during this school year and beyond.
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