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Thu, July 18

New school year's first lesson: how to keep kids safe

Courtesy photo<br>
Prescott Alternative Transportation Safe Routes to School program coordinator Paul Katan recommends that children walk to school in groups because there is safety in numbers.

Courtesy photo<br> Prescott Alternative Transportation Safe Routes to School program coordinator Paul Katan recommends that children walk to school in groups because there is safety in numbers.

As students return to school throughout the tri-city area, Prescott Alternative Transportation Safe Routes to School program coordinator Paul Katan offered safety tips for students, parents and drivers.

At the top of the list is "safety in numbers." Parents should encourage their children to walk or ride to school with a group of other children. In the case of younger students, parents may want to consider taking turns walking their children to school. As a "walking school bus," parents can pick up children along the route to school.

Before school starts, Katan encourages parents to show their children the safest route to walk or bike to school. At the same time, parents can show children any hazards they should avoid.

According to Katan, bike riders "should always walk their bikes in crosswalks. It is illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk in Prescott, but parents teach their children to ride there. I would not tell them not to, but even when riding on the sidewalk, they should ride with traffic, not against it."

Katan also urges parents to teach their children to "bike safely by always wearing a helmet and making sure their bikes are in good repair."

Motorists should slow down and watch for children, and stay off cell phones while driving.

AAA Arizona communications and public affairs director Linda Gorman said, "In Arizona, there were more than 3,500 crashes in 2008 involving pedestrians and bicyclists. As the school year begins, we urge motorists to exercise caution when driving through neighborhoods, parks and school zones."

To help protect children returning to school, AAA Arizona offers these back-to-school safety tips:

• Walk around your vehicle before moving it, especially during morning and afternoon hours.

• Scan between parked cars and other objects for signs that children could dart into the road.

• Eliminate distractions. Taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles the chance of being in an accident.

• Plan ahead. Leave early and build in extra time for congestion. Modify your route to avoid school zones and traffic.

• Drop children off on school property, not on neighborhood streets.

• Obey traffic laws. Drive no faster than 15 miles per hour in or near a school zone. Fines double when "Stop When Children in Crosswalk" signs are present. In addition, remember that school zones are non-passing zones. Always stop for school buses that are loading or unloading students. It is illegal to pass a school bus with flashing red lights.

• Obey the crossing guards at all school crossings. Stop before reaching a crosswalk when the stop sign is in an upright position and the crossing guard and children are in the crosswalk. Do not proceed until the children and crossing guard have cleared the roadway.

AAA Arizona encourages parents to review the following safety precautions with children who will be walking or bicycling to school:

• Walk only on the sidewalk and cross the street only at crosswalks.

• Avoid walking in front of, behind or between parked cars. Let children know that even though they can see the vehicle, the driver might not be able to see them.

• Stop at driveways to make sure no vehicles are coming in or out. A person backing out of a driveway may not see a pedestrian in the rear-view mirror.

Prescott's Safe Routes to School program is entering its third year. It receives money from the national Safe Routes to School program.

Three years ago, Safe Routes to School started with two schools: Prescott Mile High Middle School and Taylor Hicks. The program has grown to include eight schools - public and charter.

Safe Routes to School has received $700,000 from the federal government through the Arizona Department of Transportation. ADOT awards the money to the City of Prescott for infrastructure improvements around schools. The city designs and builds improvements that include sidewalks, signage, improved crosswalks and bike lanes.

"Safe Routes to Schools makes improvements around schools that benefit neighborhoods by connecting schools to area resources," Katan said.

Anyone interested in more information about Safe Routes to School can contact Katan at 708-0911.

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