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Drivers be aware: School starts Wednesday in Lee County

By Staff | Aug 4, 2012

With Wednesday marking the start of the school year for many Lee County students, officials are offering people some back-to-school safety tips.

“The first thing they need to realize is school is starting,” Lt. Tony Sizemore, spokesman for the Cape Coral Police Department, said Friday.

He emphasized that the first day is midweek, so it may take motorists by surprise. School buses will be on the road, stopping to pick up students.

“So give yourself a little bit of extra time,” Sizemore said.

Be aware that there are bus stops on street corners, and some stops may not be lit by streetlights. Students can be less visible in the early hours.

“Be careful if you have an early commute to work,” he said.

According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, motorists should allow for extra commute time in the afternoon also – after school is out. Picking up and dropping off students can cause delays in traffic, officials reported.

“Be on the lookout for children sitting in the roadway or on the side of the road waiting for their bus,” the LCSO said in a prepared statement Thursday.

Joe Donzelli, spokesman for the Lee County School District, explained that drivers get into a routine in the summer that they can “zip down the road.”

“You’ve got to be aware of your surroundings,” he said of when school is back in session. “Make sure you’re looking out for our little ones.”

On the flip side, Donzelli suggested that students go to bed at an earlier hour and get up earlier in the next few days to prepare them for going to school.

“We want to make sure the kids are used to getting up,” he said, noting that officials do not want half-awake children walking in the dark to a bus stop.

Children should know proper bus and bus stop etiquette – no horseplay.

“They have to be careful walking to and from their bus stop,” Donzelli said.

Sizemore suggested that students wait to use their portable devices and earphones. Earphones or earbuds can make it hard to hear passing vehicles.

“Everybody’s walking and texting now and using portable devices, like iPods,” he said. “Wait until you get on the bus, or wait until you get to the bus stop.”

Students should be watchful of passing vehicles.

“Especially if you’re at a dark bus stop,” Sizemore said. “Be cognisant.”

Children who are bicycling to school are urged to wear a helmet.

“Adults should do it for their own safety, but I would recommend all children do it,” he said, adding that there is a law that addresses helmets and age.

Officials stressed the importance of knowing what school bus to ride.

“Make sure your child is mature enough to ride the bus. Make sure your child knows the bus number,” Donzelli said. “They need to know where to go.”

Students as young as age 5 are permitted to ride school buses.

Sizemore explained that the police department receives numerous calls during the first few days of every school year from parents whose children got on the wrong bus after school or even got off at the wrong bus stop.

“Go over it with your child before the first day of school,” he said.

Parents should also have an agreed upon plan with their children if the children decide to go to a friend’s home after school and not take the bus.

“Parents really have to make sure whatever contact information they have on file with the school has to be up to date,” Donzelli added.

Parents change addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

“They forget that the school needs to be updated,” he said.

While the Cape police have no traffic enforcements planned for Wednesday, the Fort Myers Police Department will conduct an enhanced patrol to educate drivers, parents and children on accident prevention and pedestrian safety.

“We want you to slow down; obey the traffic laws and speed limits,” Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker said in a prepared statement released Friday.

“Be alert and ready to stop for school buses and children,” he said.

Officers will focus on drivers who speed in school zones, fail to wear or ensure their children wear seat belts, and illegally pass school buses.

According to the LCSO, vehicles traveling in the same direction as a school bus that has its flashing red lights on and the stop arm extended must stop behind the bus; they can move after the arm is retracted and lights are off.

Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction of a school bus that has its flashing red lights on and the stop arm extended must stop in front of the bus. There are exceptions for vehicles moving in the opposite direction:

* On a divided highway when the roads are separated by an unpaved space that is at least 5 feet wide.

* When there is a raised median.

* On a divided highway when the roads are separated by a physical barrier.

Again, vehicles can move after the arm is retracted and lights are off.

Motorists who violate state statute 316.172 – traffic to stop for school bus – can receive a written citation and $266 fine, the LCSO reported.