The end of summer means 55.4 million children heading back to school in the United States. AAA East Central reminds drivers to be extra cautious as school zones become more active, and be aware of school bus safety.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 mph is about two-thirds less likely to be killed as compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph.

"School zone speed limits are in place to save lives," said Lori Cook, AAA East Central safety adviser. "As families prepare for the upcoming school year, we encourage parents to talk about the importance of school zone safety with their children and teen drivers."

AAA's School's Open Drive Carefully campaign was launched nationally in 1946 to help reduce the number of school-related pedestrian injuries and fatalities. The campaign kicks off each fall and continues throughout the school year to remind motorists to watch out for children as they travel to and from school.

In addition to slowing down, AAA offers the following advice for motorists to keep children safe as they navigate their way through school zones:

■ Ditch distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. Reduce risk by not using your cell phone, eating, or practicing any other form of distracted driving.

■ Stay alert. Don't rush into and out of driveways. Expect pedestrians on the sidewalk, especially around schools and in neighborhoods. Also, mind your vehicle's blind spots; check for children on the sidewalk, in the driveway, and around your vehicle before slowly backing up.

■ Stop at stop signs. It sounds obvious, but research shows that more than one third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.

■ Watch for bikes. Children on bicycles are often unpredictable; expect the unexpected. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist.

■ Brake for buses. It may be tempting to drive around a stopped school bus, but not only is it dangerous, it's against the law.

■ Plan ahead. Leave early for your destination and build in extra time for congestion. If possible, modify your route to avoid school zones.

■ Look for AAA School Safety Patrollers. With more than 600,000 AAA School Safety Patrollers at 31,000 schools across the country, they're a sure sign that you're approaching a school zone.

AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 81 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members.

Past news releases are available at news.eastcentral.aaa.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.