By Deputy Jerry Weiland
Osceola County Sheriff’s Office
Osceola County Schools begin their 2019-2020 school year on August 12. As always, the summers are too short, but as we move into the beginning of the school year, I like to remind all people of traffic safety. Unfortunately, Central Florida, including Kissimmee and Celebration, is usually rated as the most dangerous place in the ENTIRE United States for pedestrians! We definitely do not want the trophy for “winning” that contest.
Most often serious crashes result due to a combination of events by both the drivers and the pedestrian or cyclist. These encounters usually don’t fare well for the bicyclist or pedestrian. You will notice I used the word crashes, because it’s not an accident when someone does something wrong or illegal to cause it. Each person, whether driving a car, walking or riding a bike, needs to be responsible for his or her actions and follow basic safety rules. What can be done to help minimize the dangers to our children or other resident and visitors? I have some tips for drivers, parents and children going to and from school and some tips on Florida’s texting and driving law.
Walking to school
Make sure your child knows a safe route to and from school, knows their address and can find their way home. We have many kids getting lost during the first weeks of school and many can’t even tell us their addresses.
Walk as a group, both for safety and for extra visibility. A responsible adult walking with the younger kids is recommended for safety and to monitor the students’ activity.
Always use the sidewalks. Celebration is blessed with an abundance of sidewalks from all villages.
Always cross at an intersection. Preferably, one with a crossing guard, stop sign, traffic light or walk signals. Obey the directions of the crossing guards! Pay attention to the traffic, making sure the driver sees you. Just because there is a crosswalk, it doesn’t mean you are safe to cross.
While pedestrians usually have the right of way, that does not mean they can just walk into traffic to cross the road. They also must wait for it to be clear of traffic. Walking into traffic is illegal.
Do not become too engrossed in your electronic media and pay attention when walking or crossing the streets. This allows you to watch for vehicles and strangers.
Look LEFT-RIGHT then LEFT again to make sure no cars are coming and that it is safe to cross.
Do not cross the street from between cars.
NEVER anticipate that the driver sees you and will stop. Watch for them to make eye contact or signal you to cross.
Riding a bike to school
Always wear an approved and properly fitted bike helmet. Under Florida law, all children under the age of 16 must wear a helmet and can be ticketed. Parents who allow this can also be cited!
Have bikes correctly adjusted and in good working condition. Make sure all reflectors and safety devices are installed. A headlight and red taillight are required if riding during low light conditions, but it’s never a bad idea to use them anytime.
Practice riding with your child. The more skilled at riding they are, the less likely of being involved in a crash. Practice riding slowly, avoiding obstacles and obeying basic traffic laws. Be a positive role model when you also ride.
If riding on the road, ride with the flow of traffic and in a single file line, following all the rules of the road. While It is legal to ride on the sidewalks, riders must yield to all pedestrians. If riding up behind people walking, give them a verbal alert. This is a common complaint I hear and also required by law.
Walk bikes across the street while crossing at an intersection and obey the crossing guards.
Tips for Drivers
Slow down! Fines for speeding in a school zone are doubled!
Be alert. Pay attention! Children are not predictable. Assume any child will run into your path at any moment.
Do not pass a stopped school bus when its lights are flashing.
Do not park blocking the intersections, crosswalks, alleys, fire lanes or driveways.
Be respectful of the neighborhoods. Those of you that want to circumvent the normal procedures for dropping off or picking up, usually park in and around other people’s homes or businesses. Park on the road past Town Hall and have your students walk from there to avoid congestion. Besides what message are we giving kids when adults bend or break rules for their own convenience?
Park in legal spaces only. Do not park in the aisles of parking lots or block access to businesses.
Do not honk the horn unless it an emergency, especially when passing children on bikes, as it may scare them causing them to fall or swerve into your path. Florida law states you must have at least three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist. More space is better if safely possible.
Watch for students, especially those on bike, when making turns or approaching intersections.
BE PATIENT! The first few weeks of the year are especially challenging for all
Texting and Driving
Texting and driving is now a primary offense, meaning you can be stopped solely for doing so. There are many other points to this law but as it relates to schools, I want you to know that using any handheld device in a school or work zone is against the law. PUT IT DOWN!
Of course there are many other steps to take to help your community, and the children, stay safe. These tips are only the beginning. Please practice safe driving, walking and biking when out and about. Tragedies occur many times due to inattentiveness of the people involved. Parents, please teach your children basic safety skills and techniques. Drivers please pay attention. That text, cup of coffee, or whatever, is not as important as a child’s life. Members of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office will be out and watching for unsafe behaviors. Please be safe!
This article appears in the August 2019 edition of the Celebration News