By Tamas Mondovics
The start of the new school year has prompted the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) to launch its annual public awareness and enforcement campaign aimed at educating motorists about the rules of the road in regards to school buses.
With about 1,100 school buses on the roads transporting more than 91,000 students, the affects of which are felt countywide, HCSO’s efforts are both timely and necessary.
“Many motorists are unsure when they should or should not stop for a school bus and find state laws confusing and some are not aware of the rules of the road,” said Corporal Tim Craig with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
To keep students safe, HCSO has also beefed up its presence on the roadways with deputies out in force in patrol cruisers, motorcycles and unmarked vehicles keeping a close eye on motorists who don’t know or don’t heed state laws regarding stopping for a school bus.
Supported by a video presentation on the department’s Website, motorists are reminded of a number of important rules and reminders to make sure that this year began with the utmost student-safety in mind.
According to a Florida Department of Education survey conducted in April 2012, more than 21,000 drivers illegally passed school buses on a one day survey, which represents more than 3.7 million possible violations by motorists in Florida during the 180-day school year.
Each illegal pass-by could result in a tragic injury or fatality of a student.
The inconvenience of an extra few seconds spent waiting for a stopped school bus is insignificant compared to the loss of a child’s life, which is why Florida’s departments of education, transportation, and highway safety and motor vehicles have teamed up to develop the “Stop on Red, Kids Ahead” campaign to remind drivers of the laws and safe practices to take when approaching a school bus.
HCSO spokesperson Larry McKinnon emphasized that motorists should remember that drivers who pass a school bus illegally on the left side commit a moving violation, punishable under Chapter 318, Florida Statutes (FS).
“The goal is to keep our children safe through education and enforcement,” McKinnon said, adding that drivers who pass a school bus illegally on the right side where students enter or exit the bus commit a moving violation, punishable under Chapter 318, FS and, are subject to a mandatory hearing.
For more information on Florida’s school bus laws, visit floridaschoolbus safety.gov
On the roadways, drivers should:
– For drivers the first and most important tip is to never attempt to pass a bus when it is stopped or preparing to stop.
– Leave adequate space between your vehicle and the bus.
-Stop if you are moving in the same direction as a stopped bus.
– Remain stopped until the bus withdraws its stop sign.
– Be on the lookout for kids around school bus loading and unloading areas.
– Obey all traffic signs and signals.
– Pay attention; avoid distractions.
– Do your part to make every school crossing a safe place for children to walk.
– Pay attention to speed limits, school crossing guards and unpredictable children, since these situations may require you to reduce your speed or stop.
– When children (walking, bicycling or skating) or school crossing guards are present in a crosswalk, drivers must yield or stop at the marked stop line and without stopping in the crosswalk. It is the driver’s responsibility to avoid colliding with pedestrians.
At the bus stop, students should:
-Always walk to the bus stop. Never run.
– Walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the left facing traffic.
– Never speak to strangers at the bus stop or get into a stranger’s car.
-Wait for the bus to arrive, watch for red flashing lights and the stop arm to extend. Look left, right and left again before crossing the street.
– Buckle up if your school bus has safety belts.