Back to school: Slow down, save a child and your wallet

Published on: August 25, 2011

Schools in South Hillsborough opened for classes on August 23. Mitch Traphagen Photo

Schools in South Hillsborough opened for classes on August 23. Mitch Traphagen Photo

By Mitch Traphagen

RUSKIN – Approximately 190,000 children returned to school in Hillsborough County on Tuesday and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has a message for motorists: Slow down to save a child and your wallet.

At elementary schools such as Ruskin, Gibsonton and Cypress Creek, all located on heavily traveled roads, the speed limit before and after school hours drops from 45 or 50 mph to 15 mph in the school zones. According to the HCSO, fines for speeding — even a little — in Hillsborough County school zones range from $143 to $443 and some infractions include a mandated court appearance.

But the fines pale in comparison to the life a child.

According to the HCSO, “drivers should be especially cautious as they approach intersections, with or without marked crosswalks, and pay particular attention to those areas that are designated as school crossings with the bright yellow signs.

When approaching traffic signals, especially those designated as school crossings, make note of children who are approaching the roadway. Right turns on red can be extremely dangerous to pedestrians, especially smaller ones who might be more difficult to see from the driver’s seat.”

School bus safety will also be priority this year. School buses transport approximately 90,000 Hillsborough students each school day.

“Every year, there are repeated incidents of drivers failing to obey the laws regarding stopped school buses,” the HCSO said in a press release. “Remember, small bodies are not easily seen as they exit and walk around the front of a bus. These laws are in place to protect the children within our community. Take time to learn the laws and obey them.”

In their new school year press release, the HCSO also asked parents to take an active role in the safety of their children.

“Parents should also take extra care in educating their children about pedestrian and bicycle safety by traveling the route with their child over the weekend or during the first several days of school to insure they know the appropriate places to cross and how to do so safely.

Children should be reminded to ALWAYS look left, right, and left again when crossing the road and to be particularly aware of drivers making turns. Those riding bikes should be reminded to always wear a helmet and to walk their bikes through crosswalks. Student pedestrians and cyclists should be reminded to obey the instructions of School Crossing Guards and deputies stationed along their route.”

The HCSO is planning to increase patrols around South County schools, both in school zones and on the roadways surrounding area schools. After a summer of less traffic and non-active school zones, drivers will need to be alert for children walking and riding bicycles to school and for school buses operating on roadways. Elementary school hours, particularly in the morning, coincide with rush hour. As such, commuters will need to allow for extra travel time.

In South Hillsborough, nearly 28,000 students returned to 16 elementary schools, 6 middle schools and 5 high schools. In all, Hillsborough County Public Schools, the third largest school district in Florida and the eighth largest in the United States, operates 254 schools and 82 adult programs.

Motorists who are uncertain about when to stop for school buses can visit the State’s “Stop on Red, Kids Ahead” website at for more information and great graphics that better explain these laws.