When a school bus stops and the red lights are flashing - traffic approaching from either direction is required to stop.

TAMPA BAY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Many Tampa Bay area students are returning to brick and mortar schools in Florida this week. With the return comes calls from local law enforcement for awareness and patience with the additional school traffic.

“Even in normal school years, the first week of school can be stressful for every commuter,” said Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis. “This year will be like none other in recent history. We all need to be both patient and vigilant as our youngest citizens make their way to school.  Please be especially careful of distracted children walking and riding bicycles.”

The first week of school consistently produces increased pedestrian traffic as well as vehicular traffic, on Bay area roadways. Drivers should be mindful of the following:

• Motorists should avoid school zones if at all possible
• The first few weeks of school are always extra busy so leave plenty of time to travel
• Reduce or eliminate any distractions inside your car so you can concentrate on the road and your surroundings
• Put down the phone
• Do not text and drive
• If you have any type of emergency or get into an accident, call 9-1-1 immediately
– tell the operator the location of the emergency
– answer all of the questions appropriately
– emergency vehicles are dispatched immediately
– answering the dispatcher’s questions does not delay the response.

The Sarasota Police Department is reminding drivers there is a zero-tolerance policy for speeding in
school zones and passing school buses that have sign signs extended as students board or leave a school bus. Fines for speeding in a school zone and passing a school bus can range from $156 to $456.  Officers are encouraging drivers to slow down and allow plenty of time getting to and from their destination.

Sharing the Road with Young Pedestrians

According to research by the National Safety Council, most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related incidents are 4 to 7 years old, and they’re walking. They are hit by the bus, or by a motorist illegally passing a stopped bus. A few precautions go a long way toward keeping children safe:

  • Don’t block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn, forcing pedestrians to go around you; this could put them in the path of moving traffic
  • In a school zone when flashers are blinking, stop and yield to pedestrians crossing the crosswalk or intersection
  • Always stop for a school patrol officer or crossing guard holding up a stop sign
  • Take extra care to look out for children in school zones, near playgrounds and parks, and in all residential areas
  • Don’t honk or rev your engine to scare a pedestrian, even if you have the right of way
  • Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians
  • Always use extreme caution to avoid striking pedestrians wherever they may be, no matter who has the right of way

Sharing the Road with School Buses

If you’re driving behind a bus, allow a greater following distance than if you were driving behind a car. It will give you more time to stop once the yellow lights start flashing. It is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children.

  • Never pass a bus from behind – or from either direction if you’re on an undivided road – if it is stopped to load or unload children
  • If the yellow or red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, traffic must stop
  • The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to allow them space to safely enter and exit the bus
  • Be alert; children often are unpredictable, and they tend to ignore hazards and take risks

Sharing the Road with Bicyclists

On most roads, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as vehicles, but bikes can be hard to see. Children riding bikes create special problems for drivers because usually they are not able to properly determine traffic conditions. The most common cause of collision is a driver turning left in front of a bicyclist.

  • When passing a bicyclist, proceed in the same direction slowly, and leave 3 feet between your car and the cyclist
  • When turning left and a bicyclist is approaching in the opposite direction, wait for the rider to pass
  • If you’re turning right and a bicyclists is approaching from behind on the right, let the rider go through the intersection first, and always use your turn signals
  • Watch for bike riders turning in front of you without looking or signaling; children especially have a tendency to do this
  • Be extra vigilant in school zones and residential neighborhoods
  • Watch for bikes coming from driveways or behind parked cars
  • Check side mirrors before opening your door

©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The National Safety Council contributed to this article.