“The wheels on the bus go round and round . . .” goes the children’s song. But from time to time those wheels stop when the school bus makes a stop to let children on and off. It’s the perfect time to remind motorists to be extra diligent in watching out for area students who are returning to school today, Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Wilton school buses will be back on the roads and carrying children generally between 6:30-9:15 a.m. for the morning pickups and again in the afternoon starting at 2 p.m. until as late as 4:45 p.m.. According to AAA, those afternoon hours are particularly dangerous, especially as twilight hours start earlier and earlier through the fall. Over the last decade, nearly one-third of child pedestrian fatalities occurred between 3-7 p.m.. Drivers should also look out for children who may dart out into the street near school zones, playgrounds, bus stops, and in neighborhoods.

“Children get caught up in the excitement of ‘back-to-school’ and sometimes forget to look out for cars,” says Fran Mayko, AAA Northeast’s public affairs specialist. “Many youngsters also have trouble making accurate judgments about traffic speed and distance, so drivers have to be particularly aware for kids darting out into streets near school zones, playgrounds, and bus stops.”

Connecticut General Statute 14-279 prohibits motor vehicles from driving past a school bus that has flashing red lights. In fact when drivers encounter a stopped school bus flashing its red lights, they’re required to stop their vehicles at least 10 feet away from the front when approaching and not less than ten feet from the rear when overtaking or following a stopped school bus. It doesn’t matter where the bus is halted and flashing its red lights–on Rte. 7, school property, winding Wilton roads, a private road or parking lots–the law says drivers must stop.

Because minors are involved in the infraction, penalties are harsh for those that break the stopping-for-school-buses law. Drivers face a $450 fine for the first offense (more than $700 if it occurs in a construction zone), and $500-$1000 fine and up to 30 days in jail for repeat offenders. Bus drivers are instructed to notify police when a driver does not stop for a school bus.

In its annual School’s Open–Drive Carefully campaign, AAA Northeast encourages motorists to stay alert in areas where children are present, paying special attention during the morning and afternoon hours when children are coming to and going to school. Launched in 1946, the campaign is designed to curb a trend of unsafe driving behavior in school zones and neighborhoods that can result in children’s injury and death.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 50 million children throughout the nation headed back to school before Labor Day this year with 13-percent walking or biking to school. In 2014, more than 309 child pedestrians died while another 11,000 were injured.

As part of the School’s Open – Drive Carefully campaign, AAA Northeast offers drivers these tips to keep school children safe:

  • Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
  • Come to a complete stop. Research shows more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods.
  • Eliminate distractions. Research shows taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. And children can be quick, crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by not using your cell phone or eating while driving, for example.
  • Reverse responsibly. Every vehicle has blind spots. Check for children on the sidewalk, in the driveway and around your vehicle before slowly backing up. Teach your children to never play in, under or around vehicles.
  • Watch for bicycles. Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist. If your child rides a bicycle to school, require he or she wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet on every ride. Find videos, expert advice and safety tips at ShareTheRoad.AAA.com.