A cool morning breeze Wednesday morning made for a brisk walk for the dozens of Wakefield Elementary students who participated in the International Walk to School Day.
International Walk to School Day began in 1997, and is a global event that involves communities from more than 40 countries. In October of every year, millions of children from countries around the world participate in Safe Kids Walk This Way events for International Walk to School Day. The events raise community and global awareness about walking safety and promote healthy behavior.
The California Office of Traffic Safety partners with the California Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies, such as the Turlock and Modesto police departments, and works with schools, parents and caretakers to make sure students walking or biking are getting to class safely. This includes helping crossing guards and reminding drivers to look for children crossing the street, especially near schools during morning pick-up and drop-off times. The event at Wakefield included a safety assembly and a giveaway of bike helmets.
Wakefield School was chosen because the CHP focuses on locations with high numbers of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes. Officers worked with uniformed officers to monitor crosswalks for motorists and pedestrians who fail to yield the right-of-way or who take unsafe and illegal actions.
“Creating a safe environment for children to get to and from school is important in every community,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “It allows students to utilize alternative transportation options that make going to school an enjoyable experience.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents get one hour or more of physical activity each day. Walking and bicycling to school enables children to incorporate the regular physical activity they need each day while also forming healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
Some of the most important lessons the event strives to impart are on safety. Of the 5,987 pedestrian traffic fatalities, 245 (4 percent) were children in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of the 840 cyclist traffic fatalities, 59 (7 percent) were children in 2016.
When walking or biking to school, the OTS reminds parents and guardians of important safety tips to teach children when they are on the go:
• Look left-right-left before crossing the street. Continue looking for cars as you cross.
• Use crosswalks whenever possible, preferably at stop signs or signals.
• Make eye contact with drivers. Make sure they see you before crossing the street.
• Walk with friends or a group.
• Avoid using a cell phone or listening to music while walking.
The CHP embarked on a yearlong effort on Monday to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and was awarded a California Pedestrian and Bicyclist Enforcement and Education Project VII grant to conduct enhanced-enforcement patrols and public awareness campaigns.
“Pedestrian and bicyclist safety are a priority for the CHP,” CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said. “This grant provides us additional resources to enhance the safety of the most vulnerable roadway users.”
Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities account for nearly 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths in California. Approximately one-half of all pedestrian crashes in the state occur at a crosswalk. The CHP reminds motorists that every corner is a crosswalk, whether marked or unmarked.
School zone enforcement operations will take place throughout the year. To improve pedestrian safety in school bus zones, officers will ride school buses to watch for drivers who fail to stop for flashing red lights. When they spot a driver who has not stopped, they will relay the vehicle description to an officer in the vicinity.
The educational component funds traffic safety rodeos and educational presentations related to safe and courteous traffic safety behavior. The grant also supports safety publications, bicycle helmets, reflective gear, and other safety equipment.