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Safety tips to keep in mind with school year’s start
August 9, 2017

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As students prepare to head back to school, motorists and parents should keep in mind some basic safety tips to help ensure a great start to the new school year for everyone.

"If everybody is more aware and more informed about the safety measures - it's going to vastly reduce accidents and traffic crashes, and injuries," Sgt. Don Donakowski, with the Cape Coral Police Department's Traffic Unit, said. "If we can reduce them by any means, we'll be ahead of the game."

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 134,790 children under the age of 18 in crashes based on the preliminarily 2016 figures. As a result, there were 1,996 serious bodily injuries and 161 fatalities, which is a 32 percent jump in fatalities from 2014.

"This month, as children head back to school, it is critical that motorists adjust their driving behavior to account for more children on the road," Executive Director Terry Rhodes said in a prepared statement.

"Slow down in school zones, follow instructions from crossing guards and properly stop for school buses," she said. "No trip in a vehicle is routine, especially with children. Children are observant and modeling safe driving behavior may just save their life down the road."

Donakowski noted that not all streets in the Cape are well lit or have sidewalks.

"As you know, when kids go out to the bus stop or walk to school, it's usually dark out," he said.

Students should use the sidewalk or walk off of the edge of the road, not in the road.

He also advised that they not stand or sit in the road while waiting for the bus.

"Avoid having them in dark clothing," Donakowski said.

Lighter clothing can make a child more visible in those dark morning hours. He also suggested that parents invest in items with reflective material, like a backpack or shoes, or use reflective tape.

"Anything that's going to make the child more visible," Donakowski said.

If possible, a parent or guardian waiting with the child at the bus stop is the best option.

"That's always much more safer," he said.

Students who ride a bicycle to school should have the proper equipment.

"If they're under 16, they have to wear a helmet per state law," Donakowski said.

The bicycle should have a headlight in front and a red light in back for riding in the dark.

"Bicyclists must ride with the flow of traffic, not against the flow," he said.

When driving a student to school, seatbelt and child restraint safety are a concern.

The DHSMV reported that Florida law requires occupants under 18 to wear a seat belt. Authorities issued almost 9,000 citations in 2016 to motorists for not properly securing children in a vehicle.

"(The Florida Highway Patrol) encourages you to drive responsibly and ensure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up, including passengers and children in the back seat," Col. Gene Spaulding, FHP director, said in the prepared statement. "Remember, the best child seat is one that fits your child, fits your car, and that drivers will use correctly every time."

State law requires that children 5 years old and younger must use a federally-approved car seat. Passengers up to 3 years old must use a separate carrier or a vehicle manufacturer's integrated child seat, and ages 4-5 years require a separate carrier, an integrated child seat or a child booster seat.

Children ages 6-17 years old must use a seatbelt while riding in a motor vehicle.

"Obviously, we want all children buckled up in the front or back seat," Donakowski said.

"You can be pulled over if a passenger in the front is not wearing a seat belt," he added.

Like students and parents, motorists should also focus on safety as school resumes.

"Be aware that school is starting," Donakowski said. "For the last couple of months, we haven't had kids out early in the morning."

If you drive past students, give them a 10-foot clearance if possible.

"Reduce speed to 5 mph to 1 mph if there's children around," he said.

"Stop at all stop signs, red lights and stop walks," Donakowski added.

If it does not affect other drivers, use bright lights in the dark morning hours.

"It will make the children more visible," he said.

When encountering bicyclists, rely on the three-foot rule.

"You have to give bicyclists three feet from where they are riding," Donakowski said.

Avoid texting, eating and other distracted driving habits while behind the wheel.

"All electronic devices are illegal to use while driving. If it's not a hands-free device, it's against the law," he said. "Anything that takes your hands or eyes off the wheel or roadway, we definitely recommend against."

Motorists are required to stop when they approach a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing and its STOP arms extended. Oncoming traffic does not have to stop if it is a divided road with a grass or cement median or curbing. If there is no divider, then oncoming traffic must also stop.

"Vehicles traveling in the same direction - they are never permitted to pass," Donakowski said.

As of July 1, the Cameron Mayhew Act increased the minimum penalty for drivers who illegally pass a school bus, resulting in injury or death, to a $1,500 fine and a one-year driver license suspension.

"Our school buses carry Florida's most precious cargo, our children. In 2016, Cameron Mayhew lost his life walking to his school bus, a devastating and completely preventable loss," Rep. Dane Eagle said in the statement. "I am proud to have sponsored HB 1239, the Cameron Mayhew Act, to help prevent these tragedies and keep our children safe."

Visit online: flhsmv.gov/safety-center/child-safety/ for more.

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