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More than 1,500 pupils injured in traffic last year: Tips for staying safe
Every school day in 2020, 12 children and teenagers on average were injured in traffic accidents on their way to or from school. That added up to more than 1,500 injured pupils in Belgium, whether they were walking, biking or riding in a car.
Traffic safety institute Vias finds the figure, which cover all ages of pupils, concerning considering how many days schools were shut completely or to specific grade levels due to the coronavirus crisis. With a new school year starting up this week, it has released figures on the school commute and offers tips for both pupils and motorists on keeping schoolchildren safe.
In Brussels, 107 pupils were injured last year, most of them pedestrians. A small majority of injuries in Wallonia also involved pupils walking to school, while in Flanders the most injuries involved youngsters who were cycling.
“Now that school is about to begin, Vias is calling for everyone to be extra alert for more vulnerable road users,” said the institute in a statement. “Even in such an atypical year as 2020, 1,510 children on their way to or from school were injured in traffic accidents. But it’s important to encourage children to be independent in getting themselves to school. These last days of summer holiday are the perfect time to practice the route to school and prepare kids for taking it.”
Vias suggests that children be at least eight or nine years old before walking or cycling on their own to school – though for some children it could be older depending on traffic patterns in the neighbourhood and simply the readiness of the child.
“It’s crucial that the route to school be mapped out ahead of time before you send your child out the door,” it says. “Check carefully what route is best to get to school and back; it’s not always the shortest route. Sometimes a longer route with fewer or less dangerous intersections is the best route.”
The institute is adamant that parents not drop off their kids with the car every day after they are old enough to get there on their own. Besides increasing motorised traffic around schools, it does not allow children to learn to negotiate traffic.
Vias suggests that motorists:
- Avoid taking streets with schools on them during the hours that children arrive and leave
- Only overtake cyclists if it’s possible to give them one metre of berth. On countryside roads, make that 1.5 metres, cycle lane or not
- Stick to the speed limit. “30 km/hr is not there just to pester motorists,” notes Vias. “It serves to guarantee safety for all road users.”
And that parents with kids who are walking to school:
- Practice the route ahead of time, pointing out potential dangers like driveways and conflicts with traffic, such as when motorists are allowed to turn into the zebra pad on a green light. This can help prevent the kind of tragedy that happened in Antwerp last week
- Make sure your child leaves on time so that hurrying or running is not necessary
- Ensure that they know how to use pedestrian crossings correctly and make eye contact with motorists
And that parents whose kids are cycling to school:
- Practice the route ahead of time
- Trust your child, but only let them cycle to school if they are completely capable of doing so. Can they assess their speed? Can they stick their arm out without losing their balance?
- Make sure they are visible with a safety vest, proper lighting, etc, and that they are wearing a helmet
Photo ©Thierry Roge/BELGA