Mid-South schools are opening up in August, and that means heavier traffic on the roadways, especially around schools.

Everyone plays a role in keeping kids safe, whether you’re taking your own children to school or heading to work.

Do your part by following school zone rules carefully, watching for pedestrians and buses, and leaving plenty of time so you don’t get in a rush.

The Mid-South is gearing up for the 2023-2024 school year, with many of the area’s public and private schools getting back into session this week or in the weeks to follow.

For students, gone are the days of sleeping in and relaxing with friends. For everyone else, gone are the days of lighter traffic and faster commutes!

The teams at our Elvis Presley Trauma Center and Firefighters Burn Center encourage everyone to recognize that there will be heavier traffic in and around schools in the coming weeks.

“As we begin to share the roads once again with school buses, pedestrians and bicyclists, let’s remember to extend courtesy, especially in our school zones,” said Geretta Hollins, Community Outreach and Injury Prevention Program Coordinator for Burn/Trauma Services at Regional One Health. “School zone safety means you need to appropriately follow the rules in and around all schools, especially when students are arriving to and dismissing from school.”

Hollins stressed it is important that everyone does their part to prevent a tragedy from happening.

“School zone rules apply to everyone,” she said. “They apply to motorists passing through the school zone on their way to work or somewhere else, and they also apply to parents dropping off students, buses dropping off students, and students who are old enough to drive themselves.”

Hollins urged everyone traveling through school zones to keep basic safety rules front of mind.

First and foremost, slow down and adhere to the posted speed limit of the school zone. Failure to do so could result in a speeding ticket or, worse, an injured child.

Remember that kids can be unpredictable – they may unexpectedly step off the curb, or turn suddenly to retrieve a forgotten item. It is up to everyone to stay alert and watch for kids around schools.

Put your phone down and give your full attention to driving and watching your surroundings. “If you are distracted, you are less likely to see and be able to react to a pedestrian, a bicyclist or even another car,” Hollins said.

Respect school buses. If a school bus has its lights activated and its STOP sign is out, all vehicles must stop. Never attempt to pass a school bus in this situation – it could be waiting for a child to cross to the other side of the street.

Also be respectful of pedestrians and bicyclists. “In a school zone you must wait for a pedestrian to completely cross the road,” Hollins said. “Also, under Tennessee law, you must leave 3 feet of clearance between your vehicle and a bicyclist when passing.”

Hollins encourages parents of teenage drivers to set and enforce driving safety rules.

Along with making sure your teen knows the basic rules of navigating school zones, talk to them about avoiding distractions. “For example, no putting on makeup while driving. No leaving late for school, as it makes speeding more likely. No holding a cell phone while driving – this has been Tennessee law since July of 2019,” she said.

Hollins said all drivers should keep in mind that young children can be unpredictable – they may be playing with other kids at their bus stop and accidentally step off the curb, or they may forget something on the bus and turn around suddenly to go get it.

Her best advice is to focus and give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go.

“In order to avoid rushing through a school zone, plan to leave a few minutes early, always know more than one way to your destination, and most importantly, pack your patience,” she said.

When a school bus has its lights activated and stop sign out, the law states drivers must stop. A stopped school bus could be waiting for a child to cross the street, so following the rules can prevent a tragedy.

And if you see something, say something!

Reporting bad driving can lead to increased enforcement. If you notice dangerous behavior by passing motorists, school bus drivers, students, etc., notify the school or law enforcement so they can take steps to address the situation.

Regional One Health’s Elvis Presley Trauma Center is the only Level-1 Trauma Center in a 150-mile radius of Memphis. A multispecialty team of experts is available 24/7 to treat the most critically injured patients from Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and parts of Missouri.

Our Firefighters Burn Center is the only full-service burn center in a 400-mile radius verified by the American Burn Association. It provides comprehensive services including emergency and critical care, intensive care, specialized burn rehabilitation, and laser and plastic surgery.

To learn more about the lifesaving care our team provides, visit www.regionalonehealth.org/firefighters-burn-center/ and www.regionalonehealth.org/main-campus/regional-medical-center/elvis-presley-trauma-center/