Safety first, officials urge
As schools reopen Monday in Lee County, local law enforcement is reminding commuters to give themselves a few extra minutes and to take it slow.
An estimated 80,000 students and 5,000 teachers with the Lee County School District are expected to kick off the 2011-12 school year next week. With school buses rolling out, parents driving children to and from school, and students walking and bicycling to school, local roadways will be busy.
“Law enforcement officers throughout Lee County are asking citizens to be prepared as the schools get back in session,” officials with Lee County Sheriff’s Office reported. “Motorists should plan on allowing extra time to travel to and from destinations, and keep their attention on the road.”
Motorists should be aware of the speed limit, especially in school zones and around schools. A speeding ticket in a posted school zone will cost double.
Both directions of traffic must stop when a school bus stops and displays the stop sign arms and flashing red lights. The only exception is for traffic traveling in the opposite direction when there is a raised or grass median.
“Deputies and officers will be watching for the most common driving violations, such as speeding in school zones, passing stopped school buses and failing to yield to students in crosswalks,” LCSO officials reported.
Lt. Tony Sizemore, the spokesman for the Cape Coral Police Department, advised motorists to take those few extra minutes and drive slow because school starts early and visibility may not be the greatest in the mornings.
“In the mornings, it’s going to be dark and it’s going to be humid,” he said. “It’s tough to see these kids sometimes.”
It is also a good time to remember that distracted driving can be deadly. Sizemore said children will be waiting at bus stops and walking and riding to school without the protection of air bags or a cage of steel around them.
“It’s very important to not text and drive,” he said. “Concentrate on the roadways, especially in the neighborhoods.”
Every occupant in a vehicle must wear a seat belt, while younger children should be secured in with a size-appropriate car seat or booster seat.
Authorities also offered safety tips for students’ parents.
Sizemore suggested waiting at the bus stop with children, if possible.
“If not, really instill upon your children the importance of remaining at the bus stop,” he said. “Not darting into traffic – observe the cars.”
“Keep your alert up and be careful,” Sizemore said.
The LCSO suggested that children have a safe place to wait for the bus, away from traffic and off the street. Parents should instruct children to never sit on roadway while waiting and to stay away from the bus until the bus driver gives his or her signal that it is OK to approach.
“While riding the bus, remain seated and conduct yourself in an orderly fashion,” officials reported. “Aisles in the bus should remain clear.”
For children who plan to walk or bicycle to school, parents are advised to review their child’s route and be realistic about their child’s pedestrian skills.
“Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision,” LCSO officials reported.
For young children or those going to a new school, parents should walk with them the first week to make sure they know the route and can do it safely.
Students on bikes should always wear a helmet, ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as traffic, and walk their bicycles through intersections. The law requires that people on a bicycle under the age 16 must wear a helmet.
LCSO officials reported that those headed to school on foot should mind all traffic signals and crossing guards and never cross a street against a light.
“Be cognizant of the rules of the road,” Sizemore said.
Now is a good time to also remind children about stranger danger.
Sizemore said a stranger may drive up in a vehicle and attempt to talk to children or try to encourage children to get into their vehicle.
“Obviously, we don’t want children to do that,” he said.
Parents should instruct children to always tell them where they are going, walk with a friend and never take shortcuts through woods or back streets.
The LCSO reported children should know not to approach strange vehicles and people, nor go with a stranger to look for a missing pet or play a game.
“Keep your distance and always given yourself room to run from strangers,” officials reported. “Remember, strangers should always ask directions from adults, not children.”
Parents should tell children to yell loud and run if a stranger grabs them.
“If you need to, fight back and make as much noise as you can,” LCSO officials reported.
Teach children to run to a safe place and call 911.
Sizemore said another issue that crops up at the beginning of every new school year is parents reporting that their child is missing. In many cases, the child gets on the wrong school bus or gets off at the wrong bus stop.
“When that bus comes and your child doesn’t get off, that’s a very scary situation for parents,” he said.
Sizemore advised parents not to panic and to call the school or police.
He said parents can create a contingency plan, such as if children find that they are on the wrong bus, they should know to immediately talk to the bus driver. Parents’ contact information should be in their child’s backpack and easily accessible.