Now that the school year is under way, all drivers, and teens in particular, need to be on heightened alert for young children darting into traffic on their way to and from school.

The fact is, children are hit by cars at an alarmingly high rate. Five- to 14-year-olds make up about 15 percent of the population, but they are involved in nearly 30 percent of pedestrian accidents, according to the American Automobile Association.

AAA notes that the accident risk for this group is further increased at the beginning of each school year. Not only do the kids have increased exposure to traffic walking to and from school or the bus stop, but also they’re more liable to be excitable and unpredictable right after school starts. And drivers may have relaxed their vigilance in looking for children over the summer months.

Those in kindergarten or first grade are expanding their pedestrian boundaries for the first time. They are venturing from the safety of their homes and yards to roadways and intersections. When they cross streets, they may have no idea what the true dangers are.

Furthermore, they look at the world differently from grownups. Because they are shorter, they can’t see around parked cars or over tall shrubbery. Their peripheral vision is narrower than an adult’s and their hearing cannot readily locate the source of sound. Since younger children do not have a fully developed sense of judgment, they are often not able to make the split-second decisions needed in traffic safety. They also may have difficulty assessing gaps in traffic. And they lack a clearly defined sense of danger.

Youngsters are usually in a hurry to get places and process only one thought at a time.

They are also greatly influenced by others and will imitate the behavior of older children and adults, who may well be poor traffic-safety role models.

AAA believes the motoring public can help reduce the risk children face going to and from school by taking the following steps:

• Slowing down around school and residential areas.

• Watching for children.

• Being aware that children are unpredictable and inexperienced in traffic.

• Looking for warning clues that children are in the area: safety patrols, crossing guards, bikes, school buses, etc.

• Obeying the school bus stop laws and all traffic signs and symbols.

• Practicing extra caution in bad weather or when the sun at the horizon obscures vision.

• Clearing fogged windows before starting to drive in the morning.

• Being alert for late students running to catch the school bus.

• Practicing extra caution around school sites as students, parents, teachers and school buses all converge.

Teens can be excellent drivers. They have the physical tools to be the best drivers on the highway. But behind the wheel they can exhibit the same youthful exuberance and lapses of judgment that younger children display as pedestrians.

So, teens, be cautious and alert when young children are in the vicinity! Remember their inexperience and youthful exuberance. Don’t let these qualities run afoul of yours.

Write to Dr. Wallace at rwallace@galesburg.net.