It´s that time of year once again when the summer is coming to a close, and attentions start to turn back to yet another annual phenomenon, back to school time.
Although it might be a relief for some parents, it might also be a disappointment for some children, in road safety terms we have to be aware that the characteristics of the road network will once again change.
Firstly, we have an increase in traffic at certain times of day as parents resume the school run. It is quite normal for traffic to increase in the mornings because of this, which in turn can result in delays. The same situation applies at the end of the school day, but at what time? Often, in Spain, schools operate a less robust timetable, adapting to such things as weather conditions and light, and so the school day often varies from season to season. All non-parents can do to prepare for this is be aware of the changing timetable and allow extra time for all journeys.
If you are taking your children to school by car, remember that children under 1.35 metres in height are not allowed in the front seats of the car. There are one or two exceptions, which you can read about on the website, n332.es.
Children must be secured in the vehicle, by means of a seatbelt, or specially designed retention system suitable for them. Any objects they are carrying must also be secure in the vehicle.
When you arrive at the school drop off point, remember that the laws still apply to you, the same as any other driver. You are still not allowed to double park, block entrances, or park in an illegal place with your hazard lights on just because you are dropping off your children for school. You must choose a safe, convenient and legal place to drop off your children. Where possible, ensure that they exit the vehicle on the pavement side, still warning them to be aware of their surroundings before opening the door. They may hit a pedestrian, item of street furniture, or another object, so they should be taught to be aware and alert before opening the door. If they have to leave on the road side, vigilance is even more important, they must check it is totally safe before opening the door, and must move to the pavement as soon as possible.
Remember, when you are about to pull away, pay extra attention to your surroundings too, including rigorous checks of your blind spots, as there could be children or other road users appearing from anywhere.
However, it´s not only car numbers that increase, other vehicles do too. Many children take the school bus, being collected near their homes, dropped off at school, and brought back once lessons are over. Buses operating on a school service must display a yellow sign in their windscreen and back window which warns other road users of their function. School buses have some restrictions over and above those of normal buses, but we don´t need to worry about those at the moment, all we want to do is be aware that the buses are carrying children. As such, they may stop at unusual places, not always at locations designated as bus stops. Similarly, there may be children in the road, in front or behind, possibly trying to cross, oblivious of the dangers. The advice, if passing a school bus, is to allow plenty of room and pass slowly, prepared for the unexpected.
Some children will chose to cycle to school. We must be prepared also for an increase in the number of bike on the road. As always, we must give them plenty of room if we are passing them, not only the mandatory 1.5 metres, but a little more, if possible, to allow for unexpected manoeuvres.
During late September, there will be an awareness campaign focussing on seatbelt and child restraint use, and the use of seatbelts on school buses (where fitted). The Guardia Civil, DGT, local and regional police will all be working together to check on these vehicles and the use of seatbelts, although in fairness, they should not have to enforce any laws which are designed with one single aim, so save lives.