TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) recognizes August as Child Safety Awareness Month and reminds motorists to do their part in protecting children on Florida roads by driving safely. FLHSMV is educating the public on all aspects of child safety in and around vehicles in partnership with the Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida Department of Education, Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Sheriffs Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association and AAA – The Auto Club Group.
“While back-to-school routines and travel schedules may look a bit different this year, it is more important than ever to be mindful of our smallest, but most precious cargo – our children,” said FLHSMV Executive Director, Terry L. Rhodes. “It is critical for adults to always model safe driving behaviors to instill good habits for future drivers and reduce the number of fatalities on our roadways. Whether you are learning and working from home, or making the commute to school and work, attentiveness is critical to prevent tragedies from occurring.”
Preliminarily in 2019, there were 127,285 children age 0 to 17 involved in a crash in Florida resulting in 1,361 serious bodily injuries and 142 fatalities. As children travel to and from school or just biking around the neighborhood, motorists must ensure they arrive safely by obeying school zone speed limits, remaining attentive around child pedestrians and bicyclists, and properly stopping for school buses. Starting January 1, 2021, the penalties for passing a school bus will be doubled. It is imperative that all motorists properly stop for school buses so all of Florida’s children can arrive at school or home safely.
The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) also reminds motorists that the Wireless Communications While Driving Law prohibits the use of a wireless communications device in a handheld manner while driving in a designated school crossing, school zone, or active work zone area. Violators commit a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation, that includes a base $60 fine, not including court costs or other fees, and will have 3 points assessed against the driver license.
“As the driver, it’s your responsibility to ensure that children in the vehicle are properly restrained in a seatbelt or child safety restraint,” said Colonel Gene S. Spaulding, Director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “FHP encourages you to properly restrain your children in the vehicle every time you travel. It is critically important we ensure the safety of our children as they travel our state’s roadways.”
Florida law requires that all drivers and all passengers under the age of 18 wear a seat belt. Law enforcement issued 8,403 citations last year to motorists for not properly securing children in a vehicle. Motorists who need assistance identifying, installing and using proper child restraints may contact the FHP for help.
As temperatures in Florida remain high, it is crucial that no children or pets are left in vehicles for any amount of time. So far in 2020, there have been 14 child heatstroke deaths in the United States. Although this is lower than previous years, parents and caregivers need to remain vigilant as routines change in August.
- Keep vehicles in driveways and garages locked and store keys out of reach to prevent a child from gaining access.
- When getting out of your vehicle, check to make sure all children are out of the vehicle and accounted for. Put a purse or other important item in the backseat with your child as a reminder.
- If you see a child or pet locked in a hot car, take immediate action by calling 911. Florida law, section 768.139, Florida Statutes, provides for the rescue of a vulnerable person or domestic animal from a motor vehicle.
- Teach children to never play in, on, around, or under vehicles. Keep toys or bicycles off the driveway.
The FLHSMV is joined by many state partners to keep Florida’s children safe:
“Child Safety Awareness Month serves as an opportunity to reflect on how vulnerable and valuable children are,” said Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell. “I urge all drivers to be vigilant on the roads and remind parents and caregivers to ensure children are protected when in and around cars. I am confident that, together, we can make this a priority, keep children safe, and significantly reduce the number of preventable child injuries and deaths. ”
“The health and safety of Florida’s children is our first and foremost priority, and that includes road safety. Whether students are returning to school campuses, or utilizing distance learning in the fall, it is important for all motorists to drive safely, stay alert, and pay attention to school busses, pedestrians, and bicyclists. We are proud to partner with FLHSMV during Child Safety Awareness Month and encourage families, teachers, parents and staff to remain attentive on the road, always,” said Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran.
“As we enter into Child Safety Awareness Month, it is up to each one of us to lead by example and exhibit safe driving habits each time we’re on the road,” said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin J. Thibault. “It is essential to always watch for children who may be walking or biking on or near the roadway, remember to use the correct seat for children to ride safely, and never leave a child in a vehicle for any length of time as it may lead to serious health issues.”
“One of the goals of the Florida Sheriffs Association is to proactively support services focused on the health and safety of our youth. With a school year beginning in the midst of a pandemic, it’s especially critical for all Floridians to support the Florida Department of Highway Safety’s “Child Safety Awareness Month” in August. As such, on behalf of our Florida sheriffs, I fully endorse this initiative,” stated Sheriff Bobby Schultz, President, Florida Sheriffs Association.
“The Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA) is proud to partner with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles during Child Safety Awareness Month,” said Temple Terrace Police Chief Kenneth Albano, FPCA President. “We would like to remind drivers to remain vigilant, always watching for children at play. Additionally, in an effort to further protect our children, drivers should always stop for school buses, slow down while traveling through school zones, use appropriate child restraint devices and never leave a child alone in a vehicle.”
“A lack of awareness by an adult can be deadly for children who are walking, bicycling or riding in a car,” said Matt Nasworthy, Florida Public Affairs Director, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “As schools begin to reopen across Florida, that danger is magnified. AAA urges everyone on the road to stay alert, never leave a child unattended in a vehicle and always make sure everyone wears their seat belt.”
For interactive dashboards of crash and citation data related to children, additional safety tips, and downloadable resources for parents and children to keep kids safe in and around vehicles, visit the FLHSMV Child Safety webpage, and use the hashtag #ChildSafetyFL throughout the month to see and share important child safety information.