As students across Florida head back to school over the next few weeks, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), its division of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), and safety partners throughout the state will be working to educate and engage Florida’s parents, caregivers, and motorists on the importance of safe driving with and around children through FLHSMV’s Child Safety Awareness Month campaign.
“Our morning and afternoon commutes will start to look different as the school year begins, but one thing that must remain constant is our commitment to driving safely,” said FLHSMV Executive Director, Terry L. Rhodes. “This Child Safety Awareness Month, and every month, I urge all motorists to be vigilant on the roads and remind parents and caregivers to ensure children are protected when in and around cars.”
In 2021, there were 118,668 children ages 0 to 17 involved in a crash in Florida, resulting in 1,215 serious bodily injuries and 167 fatalities. As children travel to and from school, motorists must ensure they arrive safely by obeying school-zone speed limits, remaining attentive around child pedestrians and bicyclists, and properly stopping for school buses. In 2021, there were 2,700 school bus crashes in Florida.
“As we look forward to a new school year, FHP urges all drivers to be extremely cautious during your daily commutes. Slow down in school zones, do not drive distracted, and stop for stopped school buses,” said Colonel Gene S. Spaulding, Director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “Our children are our future, and they are depending on you to protect them.”
In 2021, 33% of child passengers killed in vehicle crashes in Florida were not wearing any type of restraint. A seat belt or child restraint is a vehicle’s most important safety feature, but it only works if they are used and used correctly, every time. Florida law requires the use of seat belts or child restraint devices by drivers of motor vehicles, all front-seat passengers, and all children under 18 riding in a vehicle. Florida law also requires children ages 5 and under to be secured properly in a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device.
FLHSMV is joined by its many partners across the state to keep Florida’s children safe:
“With the increase in traffic on our roads during the exciting back-to-school season in communities across Florida, drivers should be extra vigilant for school buses, and children at bus stops, walking or biking to schools. Conscious driving is everyone’s responsibility. By not serving as a distraction, even passengers in vehicles can ensure safety is on the forefront of every driver’s mind. With everyone working together to prioritize the safety of Florida’s school children, accidents can be prevented,” said Andrea Messina, CEO, Florida School Boards Association.
“As summer comes to an end and school gets back in session, it’s essential to be focused on safety. Whether students arrive by bus, bike, car, or on foot, let’s help make their route to school safe,” said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared W. Perdue, P.E. “Always stay alert and avoid distractions while driving. Creating good routines and having vigilant driving habits will help ensure a safe school year for all.”
“As children return to school, the Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA) is proud to partner with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and remind drivers that August is Child Safety Awareness Month,” said Daytona Beach Shores Director Stephan Dembinsky, FPCA President. “Every driver can help protect a child’s life by putting down the phone and focusing on the road, paying extra attention and slowing down in a school zone, and stopping for school buses. If you’re transporting a child, use an appropriate child restraint device – your local police department can help install it – and never leave a child alone in a vehicle.”
“One of the Florida Sheriffs Association’s primary goals is to safeguard our youth. With school back in session, remember to slow down, watch closely for students, and be mindful of speed limits near schools. On behalf of our Florida sheriffs, I fully support the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ Child Safety Campaign as it saves lives,” said Sheriff Al Nienhuis, President, Florida Sheriffs Association.
“Keep kids safe as they return back to school by avoiding risky behaviors like speeding and using your handheld mobile phone,” said Michele Harris, Florida Public Affairs Director, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “According to a new AAA survey of Florida drivers, 38% admitted to speeding in an active school zone and 32% admitted to using their hand-held cell phone while driving in active school zones.”
FLHSMV’s Back-to-School Safety Checklist:
- Seat belts save lives and are required to be worn by all drivers, front-right passengers, and anyone under the age of 18; however, FLHSMV strongly recommends seat belt usage for all ages.
- The best car seat is the one that fits your child’s size, is correctly installed, fits well in your car, and is used properly every time you drive.
- Be sure to read the seat’s instruction manual and the portion of your vehicle’s owner manual when installing a car seat in your vehicle.
- Remember to check for car seat and booster seat recalls and sign up to receive any potential alerts in the future.
- As of January 1, 2021, the penalties for failing to stop for a school bus and passing a stopped school bus on the side where children enter and exit doubled. It is imperative that all motorists properly stop for school buses so all of Florida’s children can arrive at school or home safely.
- Using a wireless communications device in a handheld manner while driving in a designated school crossing, school zone, or active work zone area is against the law and extremely dangerous.
- Be alert and watch for children especially near schools, bus stops, school buses and in school parking lots. Pay extra attention to the lower speed limits in school zones. Only drive or park in authorized areas to drop off or pick up children at school.
- Always walk on the sidewalk if there is one. If no sidewalks are present, walk against the direction of traffic so that you can see oncoming vehicles.
- Cross the roadway where pedestrians are expected, at corners or in crosswalks, and watch for traffic when crossing the street.
- Pay attention. Avoid headphones so that you can hear the traffic and pedestrians around you. Never text or look at your phone when crossing the street.
- As routines change, it’s imperative to remain vigilant and make sure all children are out of the vehicle and accounted for before leaving. Put your purse, phone, or shoe in the backseat as a reminder to check.
- Never leave a child or pet unattended in a vehicle. Florida temperatures are hot and will rapidly increase in minutes, even if parked in the shade or with a window cracked.
For additional safety tips, resources, and data related to child safety, visit the FLHSMV Child Safety webpage.