School zone or zoo? Anyone who’s traversed a school zone South Florida at busy pickup or drop-off times might have a tough time discerning. For all school officials and traffic safety engineers prioritize keeping kids safe, the Florida school zone crash risk is still high : Speeding drivers, school bus drivers with big blind spots, distracted walkers and cyclists (especially those with noise-canceling headphones), jaywalkers, and unsafe pickup/drop off behaviors in among 1/3 drivers (double-parking, stopping in the middle of the crosswalk, etc.).
There are an estimated 3.2 million schoolchildren in the U.S. (public and private). According to the Florida Department of Education, about 500,000 students ride a bus. In Lee, Collier, and Charlotte Counties, about 25%-35% of kids take the bus. The rest walk, ride a bike, or are car riders. In Lee County alone, 1,300 students are classified as facing “hazardous walking conditions” on their way to school (about 12,300 statewide).
According to the Transportation Research Board, an estimated 25,000 kids are injured and 100 are killed each year while walking to or from school. Not all of those happen in school zones, though most do involve speeding vehicles. About 30 percent of school zones do not have crosswalks.
As longtime Fort Myers personal injury lawyers, we know that unfortunately, Florida has the third-highest number of annual child traffic deaths, and consistently ranks at the top of the list for child pedestrian and bicycle deaths. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the most dangerous time for child pedestrians is between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. – after school hours.
Traffic Rules in Florida School Zones
The posted speed limit in most Florida school zones is 20 mph, though some cities and counties have lowered it even further to 15 mph. Going even 1 mph over that limit can result in a $50 fine – without any prior warnings. Anything above that, and you’re facing a fine of between $200 and $500 (depending on how fast you’re going), plus 3 points on your license (both of which can be waived if the prosecutor allows you to take a traffic safety course). Flashing yellow lights are drivers’ main indicator upon entering and exiting. Enforcement times are typically posted on road signage, though it’s usually 30 minutes prior to the start of school, during school hours, and 30 minutes after school hours have concluded. And in case you didn’t know: It’s illegal to obstruct a crosswalk in a school zone, even if you’re picking up or dropping off a child. If there’s a crossing guard, drivers must obey all their instructions.
In an effort to bolster student safety near schools, a new Florida law went into effect July 1, 2023 to heighten enforcement of school zone speed limits. The law authorizes city or county governments to enforce speed limits in school zones with speed detection systems (similar to red light cameras). Although the idea of speed cameras isn’t especially popular with motorists, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports their presence can reduce the total crash risk from 8 to 49 percent.
Some say it doesn’t go far enough, though, because violators won’t incur points on their license, and their infractions won’t result in higher auto insurance rates.
Existing law outlined in F.S. 316.306 prohibits the use of handheld wireless communication devices (cell phones, mainly) while driving through a designated school crossing or in a school zone. To do so is considered a primary offense (for which police can initiate a traffic stop).
Reduce Florida School Zone Crash Risk
To reduce South Florida school zone crash risk, safekids.org recommends drivers should:
- Be alert. Kids have a tendency to “jump out of nowhere” – whether on foot or on their bikes. They sometimes lack the foresight to fully appreciate the danger. In driving in or past where you know there are going to be a lot of children, the onus is on the driver to exercise greater caution. Also, if you’re driving through a high school zone, understand that you may be encountering a larger concentration of brand new drivers. Anticipate that they may be more prone to errors, and use additional care accordingly.
- Expect more traffic. The reason school zones are so clearly and heavily marked is because there is a lot of congestion in these areas during pick up and drop off. Drivers who are running late to work may be stressed or frustrated that they’re caught in all this extra traffic. Unfortunately, you can be more prone to make mistakes behind the wheel when you’re stressed and rushed – and the impact can be tragic. If you need to drive through a school zone during peak hours, anticipate that you’ll need to tack on probably an extra 10 to 15 minutes to your commute. If you’re actually dropping off or picking up a child, expect that it can take 20 minutes or so.
- Reduce speed. Pedestrians always have the right-of-way, but again – kids have a tendency to run into the road or in front of vehicles without warning. Motorists in school zones need to be ready to hit the brakes and stop with little-to-no warning.
- Stop for school buses. In Florida, as in all the other 49 states, it’s illegal to pass a stopped school bus with the stop sign extended and lights on. It means kids are getting on or off the bus, and you risk hitting a child by ignoring this law. Many school bus-related accidents occur because drivers act like this law doesn’t apply to them.
Beyond this, parents should teach kids to protect themselves. The sooner kids understand the importance of walking and biking defensively, the better. Even if they understand the basics of sidewalk or bike lane rules, they should know that not all drivers follow the rules or pay attention. Make sure they do an extra look and listen before entering a crosswalk. If they’re riding a bike, make sure they have a properly-fitted helmet and know the proper hand signals to use for turns, etc. if they’re riding on the road. If they take the bus, talk to them about school bus safety basics (wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting on; take three giant steps away until the bus comes to a complete stop; look for cars before crossing to get to or walk away from the bus – even if the bus stop sign is out; don’t chase after the bus if they miss it, etc.).
If your child has been injured in a Southwest Florida accident on their way to or from school, our compassionate team of civil trial lawyers at Garvin Injury Law will help you examine your legal options.
If you are injured in Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, Cape Coral, Naples, or Key West, contact Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.
Making school zones safer for students and pedestrians, July 20, 2022, By Wes Guckert, American City & County
Alarming Dangers in School Zones, Oct. 2016, Safe Kids Worldwide
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Who is Responsible for Fort Myers Teen Car Accidents? Aug. 15, 2023, Fort Myers Injury Lawyer Blog