Back to School — Safely!

By Deborah A. P. HersmanIt’s a new school year and for parents that’s when transportation becomes paramount — all the details to get your children to and from school as well as to and from all those pre- or after-school activities.  As parents of three active boys, my husband and I are like the ad slogan, “We know logistics.”  But, as a mother who chairs the National Transportation Safety Board, you can expect that just as important as coordinating rides, bus trips, car pools, and more, I want our children to be transported safely.

Child passenger safety is a big issue. It’s one where our nation has made incredible progress, especially during my lifetime.  When I was in elementary school, nearly 1,400 children age 12 and younger died each year as car occupants. Last year, that number had dropped to about 700.  But, there are still too many young lives lost in motor vehicle crashes.  The good news is there’s a lot that we as parents can do to protect our young travelers.

The first thing to know is that children are far safer traveling to school in school buses than in passenger vehicles.  Find out if there’s a school bus that stops in your neighborhood.  Perhaps a passenger car is the only option for traveling to school and school-related events. That’s when you need to know that seat belts are designed for adults, so until reaching the height of 4’9”, children should be restrained with size-appropriate child-safety seats or booster seats.

Most children grow to 4’9” between the ages of 8 and 12.  Although they can safely transition to an adult seat belt, even these older children should continue to ride in the back. The back seat is the safest section of the car.

Child passenger safety is extremely important, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are other websites where you can find good resources, including Safe Kids Worldwide, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Here’s a thought:   Ask a Child Passenger Safety Technician from a nearby Safe Kids Coalition to come and give a workshop for your PTA.

Deborah A. P. Hersman is Chairman of the NTSB, an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families. For more information, see www.ntsb.gov.