MANATEE -- With Manatee County School District students returning to the classroom Monday, school buses will be back on the road, and school zones will be back in effect.
Retired Florida Highway Patrol officer Ron Getman said that motorists will need to be more vigilant in their daily commutes.
Getman said his two major concerns are motorists passing stopped buses in rural areas and knowing the laws about stopping for a school bus
"Each year I hear many
questions from those that drive about the confusion they have regarding when do they have to stop for school busses on divided highways," Getman said.
Vehicles must stop for stopped school buses, including those on divided roadways such as U.S. 41. Drivers cannot pass until the bus signal is withdrawn.
Getman said there are only three exceptions for not stopping for a school bus on divided roadways.
"Drivers using roadways where traffic moves in opposite directions must stop for stopped school busses, unless there is a median with a curb or an unpaved space, such as a grass median or turn lanes, over 5 feet in width, or a physical barrier exists," Getman said.
According to the State Board of Education rules, every school bus is supposed to stop as far to the right of the street as possible and display warning lights and stop signals before loading or dropping off students.
Drivers will need to keep an eye out for reduced speed zones and children crossing the streets by foot or bicycle.
"Kids may be out before daylight, and people need to be aware that children are on the streets," Getman said. "Kids may play around and not realize the danger of being so close to pavement."
Getman said there is a "tremendous crash history" for cyclists and pedestrians crossing U.S. 41, but he said, for most part, they do not involve students.
At the start of the school year, Getman recommends parents go over safety rules and information with their children.
"Come up with something catchy to remember traffic laws, and parents should determine where their kids will be picked up," Getman said.
Brenda Zofrea, child safety specialist and author of "Let's B Safe," said parents should go over safety rules with their children before the first day of school, including learning their child's route to school.
"Parents of children who walk or ride their bikes to school should practice the route ahead of time together; do not wait until first day," Zofrea said. "Make sure they know that is the route they should take everyday and not take shortcuts home."
Zofrea said that young students are not the only ones who need to learn how to get to and from school safely.
"A lot of people may be going to new school for first time, an many times parents dropping their kids off are not familiar with the parking lot or the layout of the school," Zofrea said. "The key thing is being aware."
Zofrea said the most important thing motorists can do is slow down.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, fines for speeding in school zones are doubled.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.