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Little feet hit the street: Drivers, put safety first

By Staff | Aug 18, 2021

More than 89,000 students were back in the classroom last week as Lee County schools opened its doors to a new school year.

The district’s 11th-hour mask mandate generated most of the back-to-school safety discussion as kids donned their “work clothes” and shouldered spanking-new backpacks.

But in addition to parents deciding whether they should add a mask to their kid’s school attire or opt their child out of the requirement, hopefully — hopefully — they also went over the standard safety reminders that have been overshadowed by the mask-or-not-to-mask debate.

One new and one nearly new reminder for school drive-time motorists this year are a pair of mandates with child safety in mind.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles at www.flhsmv.gov/ reminds drivers that, as of Jan. 1, the penalties for failure to stop for a school bus have doubled.

The penalty is now $200 for a first offense and a license suspension of up to one year for a second. The penalty for passing a school bus on the side that children enter and exit when the school bus displays a stop signal is $400 with a two-year suspension for a second violation.

If its lights are flashing and its stop sign is extended, stop for the bus. The consequences of failing to do so can be so much more serious than money out of pocket.

According to the National Safety Council at www.nsc.org/, “…most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related incidents are 4 to 7 years old, and they’re walking. They are hit by the bus, or by a motorist illegally passing a stopped bus.”

So stop for the school bus and help protect students who are walkers. Don’t block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to turn, yield to pedestrians crossing at the crosswalk or the intersection and never pass any vehicle that has stopped for pedestrians or bicyclists.

The Department of Highway Safety also reminds drivers that as of Oct. 1, 2019, you cannot hold a cell phone while in a designated school crossing, school zone, or active work zone area. Doing so can get you a $60-plus ticket and three points on your driver’s license.

Annual safety pointers for drivers from the Department of Highway Safety include:

– Watch for children, especially near schools, bus stops, school buses and in school parking lots.

– Watch, especially, for children on bikes.

– Pay attention to lower speed limits in school zones.

– Watch for and obey signals from school crossing guards.

– And, what we believe is a big one: Use the authorized areas to drop off or pick up your children at school. Yes, the lines can be long. Yes, there are drivers who just can’t seem to understand the “zipper” approach as the line nears its single lane. But letting your little one off to traverse the traffic alone isn’t safe for your child and others.

All of this is good advice. Unfortunately, many drivers either don’t pay attention or just don’t care.

According to new numbers released by AAA-The Auto Club, 56 percent of us drive through a school zone on our way to or from work. Of drivers surveyed, 37 percent admit to speeding in a school zone, 35 percent admit to using a cell phone in a school zone, 28 percent admit to having blown past a stopped school bus that had its red lights flashing and 28 percent admit to cutting off a school bus because, well, it was moving too slowly.

AAA reiterates the safety tips shared above and adds some to help keep young bus riders SAFE. Tell your child to:

– Stay five steps away from the curb.

– Always wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the bus driver signals for you to board. Be alert and remove headphones so you can hear oncoming traffic.

– Face forward after finding a seat on the bus.

– Exit the bus when it stops and look left-right-left for cars before crossing a street.

AAA also has one for the parents of young drivers for teens, too, are at greater risk as school starts.

“Talk to your teen. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and nearly one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.”

Please be aware.

Please take care.

Let us all help make this school year a safe one for all of Lee County’s kids.

— Citizen editorial