It’s back-to-school season in Lee County. Over 92,000 students returned to the county’s 122 schools last week, and whether they attend an elementary school, special education center, or charter school, these students have one thing in common: the need to arrive to and from their schools safely.
Despite the first-day-of-school-joys felt among the students (and likely their parents), traffic congestion can, and has been, a problem, and can lead to car accidents. But that’s not the only thing to worry about, because with more kids walking around, or more parents driving their kids to school, the increased traffic can make for a potentially unsafe return for our city’s kids. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Here are some ways to make for a safe back-to-school season.
School Zone Speed Limits
Fort Myers drivers must obey certain speed limits around school zones during school hours. School zones are designated areas on a street near a school, or near a crosswalk that leads to a school, where kids are walking. These speed limits are in effect during certain school hours, usually 30 minutes before and after school is in session.
For example, a designated school zone may operate between 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. According to Florida law, speed limits in school zones cannot be lower than 15 miles per hour nor above 20 miles per hour in an urbanized area.
Keep an eye out for signage when entering a school zone that instructs drivers on the speed limit for that area. This signage comes equipped with flashing lights to help get drivers’ attention. Also, beware that speeding fines are doubled in a school zone.
Crossing Guards & Crosswalks
Crossing guards are an integral part of the school year, and almost synonymous with schools in general. Students and parents who opt to walk to school should be aware of their surroundings at all times. Crossing guards are normally put in place for children to safely and efficiently reach school, so it is a good idea to obey any instructions given by the adult crossing guard at all times.
Children should also be aware of their own safety. For example, the Florida Department of Transportation recommends children not follow a guard into the street, as they must enter unsafe traffic conditions to create gaps for them to cross. Children should wait on the sidewalk until the guard has instructed them to cross. Children should always look before stepping into the roadway to make sure it is clear to cross.
Drivers approaching a school zone should be extra attentive to pedestrians when entering a school zone. For one reason, small children tend to dart into traffic or assume that the driver will see them if the child sees the car, says FDOT. Secondly, crossing guards have the power to temporarily stop traffic or create gaps in traffic for children to cross safely. This is especially true in areas that are hazardous for children, like intersections without traffic signals or crosswalks.
Drivers, for their part, should anticipate pedestrians and be prepared to stop before the crosswalk so as not to injure any children who may be crossing. They should also abide by the speed limit rules and avoid in-vehicle distractions.
Be Careful Around School Buses
The iconic yellow buses will be hitting the roads, assuring that students arrive at their destination safely. Buses are so important that they take an estimated 17 million cars a year off the roads surrounding schools each morning, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. But with all of those buses, drivers need to be sure they are providing proper deference.
Drivers should always keep an eye out for buses during school hours. If a driver encounters a stopped bus with red flashing lights, he or she needs to remain stopped until the bus starts moving again. This is true regardless of the presence of a child crossing the street.
Impatient drivers passing a bus on the right-hand side in Florida will pay a minimum fee of $265 for this offense. A second offense within five years includes an additional $265 fine and a driver’s license suspension for up to one year. Drivers passing a bus on the left will face a fine of up to $165, while a second offense includes the same fee plus your license suspended for up to six months. Florida also requires offenders to attend and successfully complete a basic driver improvement course.