The new school year will bring more traffic to the roadways, and the N.C. State Highway Patrol will be making its presence known to remind drivers to practice extra caution.
“For the first week of school, we’re concentrating on traffic in school zones, especially around the high school and all bus routes,” said First Sergeant Andreas Dietrich. “We hope to increase both education and enforcement, especially involving teen drivers.”
Dietrich said troopers will be assigned to school zones and other routes where collisions are most prevalent.
“Hopefully the sight of blue lights and a patrol car will get people to pay attention,” he said.
According to the National Highway and Transportation Traffic Safety Administration and the UNC Highway Research Center, many teenage drivers lack the experience of seasoned drivers and are more likely to be distracted while operating a vehicle.
• Approximately two-thirds of the people killed in fatal young-driver crashes are the young drivers themselves or their passengers.
• Fifty-seven percent of fatalities involving young drivers occur on rural roadways.
• One out of four 16-year-old drivers in North Carolina is involved in a car crash every year and nearly half of these crashes are serious enough to result in injury or death.
• 16-year-olds are three times more likely to die in a car crash than other drivers.
• Sixty-one percent of all young driver fatalities were NOT wearing their seat belts.
• Fifty-four percent of the vehicle’s occupants were killed as a result of not being restrained.
The Highway Research Center said the combination of inexperience and the natural impulsiveness of the adolescent years contribute to this increased risk in being involved in a fatal crash. As a result, traffic collisions continue to be the leading cause of teenage deaths in North Carolina.
Research from accident reports by the Highway Patrol shows that from January to December 2011 in Richmond County, there was a 38.4 percent increase in driver injuries between the ages of 15 and 19.
The new school year also brings an increase of school buses on North Carolina highways. Motorists should be cognizant of their presence. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration quotes an average of 24 school-age children nationwide who die as a result of school transportation-related traffic crashes each year, with 11 as occupants of school transportation and 13 as pedestrians.
In order to prevent these deaths, drivers, children and parents are advised to follow a few simple safety tips:
• When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
• When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
• Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood. Also watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
• Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
• Learn and obey the school bus laws in North Carolina. Learn the flashing signal light system that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions: Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and that children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.
There are also several rules children can follow to practice good safety techniques:
• Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
• When the bus approaches, stand at least three giant steps (6 feet) away from the curb, and line up away from the street.
• Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says that it’s OK before stepping onto the bus.
• If you have to cross the street in front of a bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus before you cross. Be sure the bus driver can see you, and you can see the bus driver.
• Never walk behind the bus.
Parents are encouraged to teach children to follow these common sense practices to make school bus transportation safer. For more information on the N.C. Stop Arm Law, visit the website at www.ncbussafety.org/SchoolBusSafety/SBSWlaw.
N.C. State Highway Patrol also reminded all drivers of the dangers of cell phone use while driving.
According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, North Carolina prohibits all drivers from texting or reading a text message while a vehicle is in motion. The only exceptions are those performing official duties such as law enforcement officers, fire department personnel or public or private ambulance operators.
In addition, it is against the law in North Carolina for drivers younger than 18 to use a mobile phone or any technology associated with a mobile telephone while a vehicle is in motion. Exceptions include talking to an emergency response operator, an ambulance company or service, a fire department, a law enforcement agency or the operator’s parent, legal guardian or spouse.
“On a personal side,” said Trooper Justin Garner of the Highway Patrol, “all of us have families too, and some of us have children. It’s not about tickets, it’s about keeping children and drivers safe. Think about your family and buckle up.”
For more information on Highway Safety, contact First Sergeant Jeff Gordon at 919-733-5027 or First Sergeant Andreas Dietrich at 910-582-7018.
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.