School’s back! For many families, this means a return to busy routines. From football games to orchestra concerts, dance recitals to quiz bowl competitions, back-to-school often means increased time in transport.

Parents worry about everything in their kids’ lives, so a discussion about defensive driving and vehicle safety might end up taking a back seat to concerns about grades, classroom behavior, or upcoming events. But every day, millions of children walk, bike, ride, or drive to school and back. In almost every year for the past 10 years, roadway fatalities were the number one cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 21. And almost 500 children are injured every day in traffic situations. Simply put, transportation safety is one subject that parents and students can’t afford to skip.

Roads are Safer for Drivers, But Not Pedestrians

Over the past decade or so, the number of overall fatalities on the roadway has declined for drivers and passengers in motor vehicles. But non-occupant fatalities (meaning deaths of people not in cars—cyclists and pedestrians) have been moving in the other direction. As a share of roadway deaths, non-occupant fatalities have gone from 13% of all deaths in 2007 to 18% in 2016. Long story short: it’s becoming safer to be in a car, and more dangerous to be around them. It’s important that kids understand this critical aspect of their safety.

We’ve all heard of defensive driving. But as these government published statistics reveal, it’s not enough to be a defensive driver. These days, you also have to be a defensive passenger, defensive cyclist, and defensive walker.

Safety First

As a passenger, being defensive means that you should always wear a seatbelt. In almost half of all roadway fatalities, the person killed isn’t wearing a seatbelt. Being a defensive passenger also means never riding with anyone who’s been drinking. Just following these two rules could prevent many unnecessary deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association also has a few tips to share with children who ride the bus. Remember to always play it SAFE:
• S. Stay five steps away from the curb.
• A. Always wait for the bus driver to tell you when to board.
• F. Face forward after finding a seat on the bus.
• E. Exit the bus only after it comes to a complete stop. Look both ways and move five steps away from the curb.

The Defensive Cyclist

Many kids bike to school, and helmets should be a non-negotiable part of having a bicycle. If kids can ride on a sidewalk, this is safest. If they must ride on the street, they should use the bike lane when available and always move in the same direction as traffic. Also, the rules of green and red lights apply to cyclists on a roadway. Parents need to make sure their kids understand these rules before they cycle to school, or even just down the street to a friend’s house.

The Defensive Walker

Defensive walking means using the sidewalk whenever possible. If they must walk on the street, pedestrians should face traffic and never cross a roadway from an intersection. 72% of all pedestrians killed by cars are killed away from intersections. This is where cars are moving fastest, and where drivers least expect to see pedestrians. Make sure your kids know they should always cross at an intersection, always wait for the “walk” signal, and never assume that the driver of a car sees them.

The Defensive Driver

Teenagers are new to driving, so the concepts behind defensive driving may be difficult to grasp at first. Teenagers often lack the driving experience to process the rules of defensive driving while at the same time processing traffic laws. Adults are encouraged to let their teenagers drive whenever they can with the adults in the car. Experience drivers can calmly point out collision traps, talk about watching out for pedestrians, cyclists, and other dangerous situations, and stress to them the need to always drive undistracted with their seat belt on.

In all situations, it’s important that drivers be on the lookout for kids. Their safety is everyone’s first priority. School is back in session, and safety is lesson number one!


  1. CDC: Ten Leading Causes of Death and Injury
  2. NHTSA: Traffic Safety Facts – Children
  3. NHTSA: Traffic Safety Facts – Summary of Motor Vehicle Crashes 
  4. NHTSA: Traffic Safety Facts – Pedestrians