The new school year is right around the corner, and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) is launching an awareness campaign in August that places an emphasis on child safety.
During the ‘Child Safety Awareness’ month-long campaign, FLHSMV, along with its division of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) and safety partners, will be working to educate and engage parents, caregivers, and motorists throughout the state on the importance of safe driving with, and around, children.
Terry L. Rhodes, FLHSMV Executive Director, said, “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. 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.”
According to FLHSMV, there were 118,668 children (ages 17 or younger) in Florida who were involved in a crash in 2021. Out of those crashes, there were 1,215 serious bodily injuries and 167 fatalities.
As children travel to and from school, drivers must ensure that each child arrives safely by obeying school-zone speed limits, remaining attentive around child pedestrians and bicyclists, and properly stopping for school buses. Last year, 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. Our children are our future, and they are depending on you to protect them,” said Colonel Gene S. Spaulding, Director of the Florida Highway Patrol.
In 2021, one-third of all child passengers who were killed in vehicle crashes in Florida were not wearing any type of restraint, according to FLHSMV. A seat belt or child restraint is a vehicle’s most important safety feature, but it only works if they are consistently used correctly.
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 who are riding in a vehicle. In addition, Florida law requires children ages 5 and under to be secured properly in a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device.
FLHSMV has a back-to-school safety checklist for the state’s motorists:
- Secure a child’s future by buckling up and choosing the right seat.
- Seat belts save lives and are required to be worn by all drivers, front-right passengers, and anyone under the age of 18, though 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.
- Stop for school buses and slow down in school zones.
- As of January 1, 2021, the penalties have doubled for failing to stop for a school bus and passing a stopped school bus on the side where children enter and exit. All motorists must properly stop for school buses so all children throughout Florida 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 not only against the law, but it is also 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.
- Move safely together and look before you step out.
- 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.
- Check for children and pets.
- 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.