Safety Guide: Getting to School on Foot, by Bus or Car

There are a variety of ways to get to school. Younger children usually walk or ride with parents, ride a bike, or take the school bus. High school students may eventually drive themselves to school in the family car. No matter how we choose to get to school, it is important that children and adults alike stay safe.

Facts and Statistics

The National Wildlife Federation's website states that 450,000 school buses transport almost 24 million children to and from school. This makes school buses the nation's largest mass transit program. The United States also spends $21.5 billion per year on school buses. One school bus replaces 36 family vehicles on the road.

In 2009, American families made 6.5 billion vehicle trips and drove 30 billion miles going to and from school. Up to 14% of morning traffic is families taking children to school.

In a study conducted in 1969, 50% of children walked or biked to school as compared to only 15% in a study conducted in 2009. If children today walked and biked more to school, we would save 3.2 billion vehicle miles and prevent 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide as well as 89,000 tons of other pollutants. Walking one mile would count towards 2/3 of the daily recommended amount of physical activity for children.

For more information, visit:

Pick-up and Drop-off

All schools have strict pick-up and drop-off policies. It is important to review these policies and advise your children on where they are to wait or go to, depending on their mode of transportation.

Safe Routes Info gives some advice on how to make the pick-up and drop-off location safer. Most schools have a special location where you can drop-off and pick-up by a sidewalk near the entrance of the school. The website also encourages parents and children to walk, bike, or carpool to school. This will decrease the traffic congestion that has been growing in the past years. Schools are advised to remind parents of the pick-up and drop-off policies to for the safety of their students. Many schools also have safety personnel on location before and after school.

 For example, Olympic View Elementary details the policies that students and parents need to abide by. They ask that any walking children leave through the front doors or wait by benches if someone is coming to pick them up by foot. Bus riders are directed to a breezeway where buses will be located.

To learn more, visit Horizons K-8 School: Staying safe and healthy at drop-off and pick-up.

Staying Safe When Walking

Walking is one of the healthiest ways to get to school, and it is also best to stay safe. Children's Health says to walk with your head first, not your feet. This means to think about where you are going and pay attention to your surroundings. They advise that children under 10 years old should not to walk to school and back on their own, and should be accompanied by an adult or young adult. Most children under 10 years old should not cross the street alone.

Other safety precautions to take include:

  • Stop at the curb before you cross the street.
  • Look left, right, and then left again before you cross.
  • Walk, do not run, across the street.
  • Cross at least 10 feet in front of a school bus.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District advises students to avoid shortcuts and alleyways on the way to school. Parents are encouraged to talk to local business owners on their child's route to school and ask if they can let the child go to their business in case of an emergency. Other things they suggest for students are being on time, wearing bright colors, calling parents to check in, and avoiding going near or entering abandoned homes.

For more information, go to Safe Kids: How to walk infographic.

Biking Safety

Biking is also a very healthy way to get to school, and it cuts down on the amount of time it takes to get to school. Just like walking, there are ways to bike safely to school. At Walk Bike to School, their pamphlet states that the most important safety feature needed when biking is a helmet. Also, checking that the bike fits the rider by doing a bike check is important for a healthy and safe ride.

Other safety precautions include:

  • Wear bright colors so drivers can see you.
  • Make sure there is enough air in the tires. Check chains and brakes to make sure they are properly working.
  • Watch for vehicles coming in and out of driveways.
  • Give turning signals with your hands. Otherwise, keep both hands on the handles.
  • Stop before crossing a street and be aware of drivers, pedestrians, and other bicyclists.
  • Ride in the same direction as traffic and follow all traffic laws.

Take time with your children to plan a safe route to school. Choose a route that has the least amount of traffic or has low-speed traffic. Routes with the lowest chances of having to cross a street or traffic are also good. However, avoid back roads, alleyways, and poorly lit streets for routes.

To leanr more, visit Ped-Bike Info: Bike Safer Journey.

Safety on the Bus

Taking the bus to school is the most used mode of transportation for school-aged children. Not only is it safe, but it also cuts down on vehicle pollution and traffic issues. The National Security Council encourages safe riding when on the school bus.

Most school buses have a specific pick-up location. While at the location, teach children to stay away from traffic and avoid roughhousing with friends or other children. Making a line once the bus arrives makes for a speedy and organized pick-up. Also, wait for the bus to make a complete stop before trying to board.

Tell children not to make loud noises or roughhouse on the bus, as this can distract the driver. Riders should remain seated until the bus comes to a complete stop. Seat belts should be used when they are available. Arms, hands, and heads should be inside the bus at all times.

Children also have to learn how to disembark safely from the bus. If they have to cross in front of the bus, they must do so at 10 feet or more away from the front of the bus and make sure they can see the driver. Wait for the driver to signal that it is OK to cross the street. Also, be sure to stay away from the rear wheels of the bus. 

For more information, go to:

Safety in the Car

Nowadays, children dropped off by parents have grown in numbers, causing traffic issues and accidents also to rise. If you must take a child to school by car or by carpool, review some safety guidelines with your children. The American Association of Pediatrics has some tips to be safe in the car while going to school.

  • Make sure all passengers and driver are wearing their safety belts.
  • Children should use a child seat or booster seat while riding in the car for as long as possible.
  • All children 13 years old and younger should ride in the back seat of the car.
  • If your teen is driving to school, go over rules such as limiting the number of other teenagers in the car, eating, cellphone use, and the use of hand-free devices while driving. Most accidents involving a teen usually occur while driving to and from school.

To read more about this, visit:

General Traffic Safety

Being safe on the road, in general, is extremely important. According to the Champaign City Police website, most areas near and around schools have a restricted speed limit between 7 am and 4 pm. These areas are usually marked with speed limit signs and flashing lights when in effect.

Be careful when approaching crosswalks and also when exiting and entering a driveway or garage. Watch for any children and other pedestrians crossing in front of the entrance or exit.

When a school bus has red lights that are flashing, you must stop your car. Drivers may only begin driving again when the bus has turned off its flashing lights.

The Fountain Valley Police Department also advises motorists to obey all traffic laws, especially in school zones. They say that 2/3 of motorists exceed the speed limit during the 30-minute period before and after school. They suggest staying alert and keeping to the speed limit in case there is the need to stop suddenly.

Going back to school also means traffic congestion increases. They encourage motorists to review their travel routes and make changes if necessary. Make sure to give yourself enough time to get to and from your destination during peak times. Be extra careful when passing by a line of parked cars, as children can suddenly dart from between them without notice. Using headlights or daylights on your car is also encouraged so that children and other pedestrians can easily see the vehicle.

To learn more, visit South Carolina Department of Public Safety: Back to school safety.

Resources for Parents and Guardians

Healthy Children offers some great advice at Safety on the way to school.

Safe Car also has plenty of suggestion on their website, Back to school.

The National Crime Prevention Council includes several tips to consider: School safety.

The Red Cross is another good source for general information: Keep it safe when you head to school.

Resources for Kids

Kids' Health teaches children how to get to school safely at Street smart.

The Albuquerque Public Schools also has a list of tips for students to follow: Student safety tips.

Safety New York: Kids School Safety