The Road Safety Authority (RSA) and An Garda Síochána are advising drivers to take extra care when using the roads now that national and secondary schools have reopened following prolonged closure due to Covid-19.
There is a significant increase in school-going traffic and drivers will have noticed a rise in the number of children using active modes of transport such as cycling or walking to get to school. Drivers need to slow down and allow at least 1m overtaking distance when passing cyclists in speed zones up to 50km/h and at least 1.5m when passing in speed zones above 50km/h.
There is an increase in the number of school buses on the road too and drivers need to slow down, and stop if necessary, when buses are pulling in to pick up or drop children off. Drivers need to slow down in the vicinity of schools and obey the instructions of school wardens, who they may not be used to seeing on the road.
One local project that is using active modes of transport to get children to school is the Galway Cycle Bus, Knocknacarrra, Co. Galway. The Galway Cycle Bus project won an RSA Leading Light in Road Safety Award for Sustainable Travel in 2019 for its innovative and sustainable way of getting to school.
Originally set up by Alan Curran in September 2018, the Galway Cycle Bus operates two routes with separate starting points and several intermediate stops where children and parents can join the cycling bus and cycle safely in convoy, before reaching their final destinations at Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh and Knocknacarra National School.
Commenting on this year’s back-to-school campaign, Minister of State for International and Road Transport and Logistics Hildegarde Naughton said: “Now that the schools have reopened it is vitally important that we look out for our children on the roads. As we are encouraging children to walk or cycle to school where possible, an increase in young cyclists and pedestrians on the roads is to be expected this year. Drivers need to adjust both their mindset and driving behaviour accordingly.”
Referring to the reopening of schools, RSA chairperson Liz O’Donnell said: "The roads are busier now as children have returned to school so we want to remind road users to be extra vigilant and on guard to any potential hazards. We all must play our part in getting children back to school safely in what is a changed landscape during Covid-19. With that in mind, we anticipate an increase in children walking or cycling to school this year and expect to see more innovative schemes introduced like the Galway Cycle Bus taking to the roads.
"Parents who have children walking or cycling to school should ensure they practice safe walking and cycling habits by wearing a high-visibility vest and a properly fitted safety helmet. Their bikes should be equipped with a bell, lights and reflectors. I would encourage drivers and parents alike to visit the RSA website where we have plenty of resources to help get our children back to school safely.”
Garda assistant commissioner Paula Hilman said: “We would appeal to drivers to be extra careful as we adjust to increased traffic volumes and changed road layouts as children return to school. This week we will see increased numbers of children using public transport, walking and cycling to school. It is important that drivers are not distracted and should be aware of pedestrians and cyclists, driving at safe speeds and allowing safe passing distances. We all need to adjust our behaviour according to road conditions and the environment.
"We would ask parents to remind their children to take care on the journey to and from school. All drivers should ensure children are properly restrained by either wearing a seatbelt or using the appropriate child car seat. We remind all parents dropping children off at school to do it safely, please park safely, do not double park, do not park in cycle lanes and do not allow children to alight from a vehicle while in traffic. It is important that areas around schools are safe for all children.”
For the tenth year running, the RSA will distribute free high visibility vests to every child starting school in September. To date, this campaign has provided 990,000 children throughout the country with high visibility vests and this year they will distribute another 110,000 vests.