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Back to reality – avoiding distractions behind the wheel

September is a notoriously busy time on the roads, as summer winds down and people return to their regular routines: work and school. This year, the shift back to reality adds an extra layer of uncertainty, as many British Columbians return to activities and work arrangements that they haven’t experienced since before the pandemic.

School zones: a cause for concern

One notable area of worry when it comes to road safety is within school zones. According to the latest annual BCAA Back to School Driving Survey, most British Columbians (68%) expect school zones to be more chaotic as people get used to new drop-off and pick-up routines. And nearly half (48%) believe that school zones will be more dangerous this year due to distracted driving, as many parents have more on their minds, adding worries about COVID-19 on top of the usual back-to-school rush.

“Back to school is always a frenzied time of year, but this year, many parents are thinking through new work schedules, new school drop-off and pick-up routines and COVID worries, which is a lot to distract them from driving safely,” says BCAA’s Director of Community Engagement, Shawn Pettipas. He adds that 68% of British Columbians were already witnessing dangerous distracted driving in school zones before the pandemic. Some of the poor driving behaviours British Columbians have become accustomed to seeing include:

  • 75% witnessing speeding
  • 59% seeing aggressive driving, and
  • 68% noting parent drivers not stopping at marked crosswalks

distracted driver illustration

The risks of split focus

While most of us understand the dangers of the unsafe driving behaviours listed above and distractions like cell phone use while driving, we often fail to see other more common behaviours as distractions. These include things like eating or drinking, worrying about the day ahead or even simply interacting with excited kids when behind the wheel. The reality is that our brains can only handle so much, and we could be inadvertently putting ourselves and others at risk on the road. Learn more about how distractions affect cognitive function and commit to tuning out distraction by taking our #BadForGood pledge today.

driver in car 

Five tips to keep our roads and school zones safe

No matter how long or short the drive, always staying focused on the road is important. Here are some tips to help you avoid distraction, plus five school zone-specific tips:

Tip #1 – Build in time to prevent rushing. On school days, start your day earlier to reduce your rush-hour stress. Set your alarm clock to get you up earlier and build extra time into your daily routine. By the time you get behind the wheel, you’ll be more awake (and calmer) for your commute. That extra time you’ve given yourself will prevent last-minute rushing, the root of many poor driving behaviours.

Tip #2– Plan ahead. Know your school’s drop-off and pick-up times and procedures. Are there restricted parking areas? Are you being asked to stay in your vehicle? Your school will likely post details on when and where to drop off your kids safely. And don’t forget to follow traffic rules such as driving within the speed limit, stopping at marked crosswalks and not driving distracted.

Tip #3 – Be a mindful driver. No matter what's going on around you, be patient and courteous. Reacting with extreme frustration may aggravate the situation and increase the risk of unsafe behaviours.

Tip #4 - Expect the unexpected. Look out for safety risks such as kids darting from cars, along with kids who are cycling and other pedestrians.

Tip #5 - Leave the car at home. Consider walking or cycling with your child. Or park and walk the last block or two. This will help reduce traffic congestion in school zones. It’s also a nice time for family bonding--and could help calm your kid’s nerves about returning to the classroom, too.

Staying calm, allowing yourself more time and understanding that others have a heavy mental load too, can go a long way to keeping everyone on the road safe as we navigate this difficult year. You can find more safe driving tips here.