Question of the Week
September 27, 2004


Taking the bus or riding in a car are often the quickest ways to get to school.

On the other hand, there are many good reasons to walk or ride your bicycle: they are good for your health, convenient, and free--just to name a few.

Sometimes the only way to get to where you want to go when you want to get there is to walk or ride your bicycle.

Unfortunately, in the United States:

Statistics show that:
* 6,000 pedestrians are killed everyyear.
* 90,000 pedestrians are injured every year.
* A pedestrian or bicyclist is killed every 3 1/2 minutes.

"Each year, more than 500,000 people in the US are treated in emergency departments, and more than 700 people die as a result of bicycle-related injuries. Children are at particularly high risk for bicycle-related injuries...."

"Every year, about 176,000 kids go to the emergency department because of bike accident injuries. Some of these injuries are so serious that children die, usually from head injuries. A head injury means a brain injury. That's why it's so important to wear your bike helmet. Wearing one doesn't mean you can be reckless, but a helmet will provide some protection for your head in case you fall down."
Kids Health

You know the health benefits of walking and riding (exercise that actually gets you where you want to go). You know that it is often your best, or only, choice. You also know the statistics, and you don‚t want to be one of them.
When riding, you have heard for years about wearing your helmet. In addition, you can:

"*Make sure your seat, handlebars, and wheels fit tightly.
* Check and oil your chain regularly.
* Check your brakes to be sure they work well and aren't sticking.
* Check your tires to make sure they have enough air and the right tire pressure.
Wearing bright clothes and putting reflectors on your bike also can help you stay safe. It helps other people on the road see you. And if they see you, that means they're less likely to run into you. You'll also want to make sure that nothing will get caught in your bike chain, such as loose pant legs, backpack straps, or shoelaces.
Wear the right shoes - sneakers - when you bike. Sandals, shoes with heels, and cleats won't help you grip the pedals. And never go riding barefoot! Riding gloves may help you grip the handlebars - and make you look like a professional! But avoid wearing headphones because the music can distract you from noises around you, such as a car blowing its horn so you can get out of the way."
Kids Health

If riding isn't for you, then what about walking?

"Walking is great exercise � you can go almost anywhere on your own two feet. Plus, it's free. But walking can also be
dangerous. How can you avoid getting into a crash? Well, let's see.

Safety tips for walkers:

  1. Always walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk and you have to walk in the road, always walk FACING traffic, so you can see any car that might go out of control.
  2. Dress to be seen. Brightly colored clothing makes it easier for drivers to see you during the daytime. At night, you need to wear special reflective material on your shoes, cap or jacket to reflect the headlights of cars coming toward you.
  3. Tips for Crossing the Street.
    * Cross only at corners or marked crosswalks.
    * Stop at the curb, or the edge of the road.
    * Stop and look left, then right, then left again, before you step into the street.
    * If you see a car, wait until it goes by. Then look left, right and left again until no cars are coming.
    * If a car is parked where you are crossing, make sure there is no driver in the car. Then go to the edge of the car and look left-right-left until no cars are coming. Keep looking for cars while you are crossing, and remember, walk. Don't run."

You don't walk. You don't bike. What does this have to do with you?

Maybe you take the bus.

"Pedestrian fatalities -- those occurring while loading and unloading school buses -- account for approximately three times as many school bus-related fatalities when compared to school bus occupant fatalities."

More dangerous than being on the school bus, is getting to and from it. Whatever you may think of that big, yellow school bus, it is the safest way for you to get to school.

"According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), each year approximately 440,000 public school buses travel about 4.3 billion miles to transport 23.5 million children to and from school and school-related activities. The school bus occupant fatality rate of 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is much lower than the rates for passenger cars (1.5 per 100 million VMT) or light trucks and vans (1.3 per 100 million VMT). In the ten year period from 1977 to 1986, an average of 12 school bus occupants and 47 pedestrians under the age of 19 were killed annually in school bus related crashes. This number decreased from 1987 to 1996 to an average of ten school bus occupants and 25 pedestrians. While each of these fatalities is tragic, the numbers are small when compared to the average number of occupants under the age of 19 killed in other motor vehicle crashes (6,118) over the past 20 years.

As safe as they are, measures are still being made to make school buses safer.
"Tough measures to protect children travelling to and from school on buses have been unveiled, two years after a 12 year-old boy died in a crash.... Pupils will no longer be allowed to stand on school buses and children will not be allowed to sit three to a double seat. Rob Thomas, the Vale's head of planning and transportation, said misbehaving pupils could be banned from buses. 'In effect, it will take less than three strikes - it depends exactly
on the nature of the incident,' he said. 'For example, if you are throwing material on the buses to distract the driver, that could cause an accident in its own right. What we are looking at is immediate bans in certain cases if the misbehaviour is of such a scale that it does put other people's lives in danger.'"

As for safety on the city bus...
"Ride Safely
If there is no seat available, use the grab bars for balance and move to the back of the bus. There's usually more room there. For the safety and convenience of your fellow passengers, we also ask you to keep your packages and personal belongings out of the aisles."

And then there is the car. Whether you have a license and a car yourself, you have friends who do, or you rely on parents to drive you from place to place, there is something to be said for the freedom and flexibility that comes with a car. However, with that freedom does come some responsibility.

"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, and two out of three teenagers who die in car accidents are passengers in vehicles driven by other teens. The fact is, automobile accidents are a serious problem for teenagers. Safety experts are trying to change that by educating teens about the choices they make when they get behind the wheel or ride in a vehicle with other teens. ... Fortunately, being careful and getting more experience behind the wheel can help you become a safer driver. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, most teenage motor vehicle accidents are caused by:
* Driver error. Compared with crashes caused by older drivers, those of teens more often involve driver mistakes.
* Speeding. Teen drivers have more crashes in which speeding is a factor. Many high-speed crashes are single-car accidents caused by the driver losing control of the car.
* Passengers. Teens' fatal crashes are more likely to occur when other teens are in the car. Passengers can distract the driver - usually by talking - and that risk of distraction increases with each additional passenger.
* Alcohol. Drinking impairs drivers, and even though teen drivers are less likely to drink and drive than adults are, when they do their risk of crashing is much higher.
* Night driving. Driving at night is risky for beginning drivers. Per mile driven, the nighttime fatal crash rate for teens is about twice as high as the daytime rate.
* Low seat belt use. Overall, teens are much less likely than adults to use safety belts."

No matter how you get to school, you are not alone on the roads. Others may be getting there in different ways, but you all need to watch out for each other.

Questions of the Week:
What factors determine the mode of transportation you choose to get you to school? Why do you need to be aware of how others get to school? How do their choices affect you as you travel? How do your choices affect them as they travel? What can you do to keep yourself safe? What responsibility do you have to keep others safe? How does keeping the roads safe for others keep you safer as well?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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