As Lee County students head back to school this month, local law enforcement wants to remind the public about some basic safety tips to keep everyone safe this year.
Sgt. Jon Kulko of the Cape Coral Police Department,explained the biggest safety issues that officers observe are related to children waiting for the bus and walking to and from school or the bus stop.
"When kids walk to school, they'll walk on the roadway in dark clothing," he said.
Parents should instruct children to walk against traffic and use sidewalks and bicycle lanes whenever possible. Wearing bright-colored clothing or putting reflective material on backpacks can also help.
"A lot of kids sit in the street, especially in the morning time," he said.
When waiting for the school bus, do not stand or sit in unlit intersections. Stay on the sidewalk or on the side of the road, away from the street, to reduce the likelihood of being hit by a vehicle.
Back-to-school safety checklist
Walking to school:
- Review your family's walking safety rules.
- Walk on the sidewalk, if one is available. When on a street with no sidewalk, walk facing the traffic.
- Before you cross the street, stop and look all ways to see if vehicles are coming.
- Never dart out in front of a parked vehicle.
Practice walking to school with your child.
Riding a bicycle to school:
- Make sure children always wear their helmets when leaving the house.
- Teach children the rules of the road that they need to know to ride their bicycles.
- Ride on the right side of the road and in a single file.
- Come to a complete stop before crossing the street.
Riding the bus to school:
- Go to the bus stop with children and teach them the proper way to get on and off the bus.
- Make sure children stand six feet away from the curb.
- If you and your child need to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the side of the road until you are at least 12 feet ahead of the bus. You should always be able to see the bus driver, and the bus driver should always be able to see you.
Preventing backpack-related injuries:
- Choose a backpack for your child carefully. It should have ergonomically designed features to enhance safety and comfort.
- Do not overstuff a backpack; it should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of your child's body weight.
- For example, a child who weighs 60 pounds should carry a backpack no heavier than 12 pounds.
- Ask children to use both straps when wearing their backpacks to evenly distribute the weight.
Preventing playground-related injuries:
- Encourage children to only use playgrounds with a soft surface. Avoid playgrounds with concrete, grass and dirt surfaces, as they are too hard.
- Children under the age of 4 should not use climbing equipment, and watch older children when they are climbing.
- Do not let children use monkey bars. They are unsafe and should not be used by children of any age.
Source: National Safety Council
Students should cross the road only at crosswalks and be alert of crossing guards.
"The big thing they like to do is walk with their earbuds in," Kulko said.
Children who use an iPod or other electronic device to listen to music should be directed to use only one earbud while walking or riding a bicycle. They will be more aware of approaching vehicles.
"Only use one, so you can see and hear cars," he said.
Under Florida law, children under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Students should ride with traffic and use bicycle lanes and sidewalks whenever possible.
"They need to obey all traffic laws," Kulko said. "At night or if it's dusk or dawn, they need to make sure they have a (white) light on the front of the bike and (a red light) on the back of the bike."
Parents should also instruct children to never accept rides from strangers. If someone offers to give them a ride, children should get away from the person and tell a parent or another trusted adult.
"Most kids have phones," he said. "Please dial 911 or call the police if there's someone that's asking questions or taking an interest in them."
Enough though there is safety in numbers, it is still not safe for young children to walk to and from school. Always provide supervision for the younger children to help ensure their safe arrival.
"It's always good to have adult supervision with the younger kids," Kulko said, noting that parents can wait at the bus stop with students. "It keeps them all safer and keeps them from goofing around."
While parents and students should be on the alert, motorists should also be aware.
"Stay of your phone," he said. "Texting and driving - it distracts people a lot of the time."
Avoid distracted driving and keep your eyes on the road.
"Kids are everywhere, especially around the school areas," Kulko said. "Also keep your eyes open for the school crossing guards. Last year, we had a couple of close calls."
According to the National Safety Council, it is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus that has stopped to load or unload children. Traffic in both directions must stop on undivided roadways.
Drivers stopped at a red light or waiting to turn should not block crosswalks.
When it comes to student bicyclists, motorists should watch out for bikes coming out of driveways or from behind parked vehicles or other obstructions. Check side mirrors before opening the door. Always remember to use turn signals, and leave space when passing a bicyclist traveling in the same direction.
Parents who drive their children to school also need to obey the rules.
"Make sure they have their seat belt on," he said. "Stay alert and off the phone."
Another concern when talking about back-to-school safety is teen drivers.
"The big thing with teen drivers is texting and driving," Kulko said.
The driver and passengers all need to wear a seat belt.
"While they are in the car, they need to make sure their focus is on driving," he said. "No playing games and keep your eyes on the road."
Teen drivers should drive the speed limit and obey all traffic laws.
The National Safety Council offered the following practices to encourage driving safety:
- Extend the learner's permit period.
- Set a nighttime driving restriction.
- Set a passenger restriction.
- Ban cell phone use while driving.
- Make safety belts mandatory.
- Prohibit alcohol.