As millions of Texas children return to school this month, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and leaders with local law enforcement reminds motorists and parents to take precautions to prevent traffic crashes and injuries in and around school buses. 

School for Wharton, Boling and East Bernard school districts begin for hundreds of students this week and thousands more across Wharton County will be affected. 

“I would urge everyone to be patient the first few weeks of school. Traffic will be heavy in the area of our local schools,” said Wharton County Sheriff Shannon Srubar. “Red flashing lights on a school bus requires passing vehicles to stop. Working together will make the start of the school year a successful one. I wish the best of luck to all teachers, staff, and students.”

According to TxDOT, last year, there were 765 traffic crashes in Texas school zones, resulting in one death and 15 serious injuries. The most common causes for these crashes were failure to control speed, driver inattention, and failure to yield the right of way, when turning left to a private drive or at a stop sign. 

In addition, last year there were 2,357 traffic crashes involving school buses in Texas, which resulted in five fatalities and 42 serious injuries. Speed and driver inattention also were the top factors in those crashes. 

TxDOT offers the following back-to-school tips for drivers and students. 

Tips for children walking or biking to school 

• Always walk on sidewalks whenever they’re available. 

• Cross the street at intersections or marked crosswalks. Look left, right and left again before proceeding. 

• Always obey crossing guards. 

• Make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street. Never assume a driver sees you. 

• Look for traffic when stepping off a bus or from behind parked cars. 

• Always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. 

• Don’t be distracted by electronic devices that take your eyes and ears off the road. 

• Follow all traffic rules, signs and signals. 

Tips for drivers sharing the road with school buses 

• Never tailgate. Follow at a safe distance, keeping in mind that school buses make frequent stops. 

• Stop for flashing red lights or a stop sign on a school bus, regardless of which direction you're headed. Continue your trip once the bus has moved, the flashing lights stop flashing or the bus driver signals it's okay to pass. 

• Violations can lead to a fine of up to $1,250 for a first offense. 

Tips for driving in school zones 

• Stay alert and put your phone away. Using a handheld electronic device while driving in an active school zone is against the law. 

• Always obey school zone speed limit signs. Remember, traffic fines usually double in school zones. 

• Drop off and pick up your children in your school’s designated areas, not the middle of the street. 

• Keep an eye on children gathered at bus stops. 

• Watch for children who might dart across the street or between vehicles.

Wharton Police Chief Terry Lynch urged equal caution for those who ride in his city.

He said his officers will be keeping an extra lookout near school zones the first few days.

"We are encouraging all motorists to be mindful of school zones and school bus safety as the new school year begins. We can often forget the challenges of driving in school zones during the summer months,” he said. “The safety of our children is a primary concern, so expect that officers will be out and about monitoring school zones to ensure that motorists are being safe and are in compliance with the law.”

Lynch said parents should talk to their teens, especially the ones who drive to help them understand the importance of being extra careful in and around school zones. 

TxDOT urges drivers to slow down, pay attention and follow all traffic laws as the new school year begins to keep children safe and avoid costly fines and tickets. 

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