TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In 2021, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said more than 118,000 children under 18 were involved in crashes in the state of Florida. 167 kids died, while 1,215 were seriously injured.

That same year, there were a reported 2,700 school bus crashes in Florida, according to FLHSMV. Now that school is starting back up, it’s important to keep roads safe as buses return and traffic changes. As buses hit the road, do you know when to stop?

Whenever a school bus is stopped and the signs are out, there are no ifs, ands, or buts. Drivers must to stop. Violators will face increased penalties if they don’t.

School starts again on Wednesday. FLHSMV and partners across the state are providing tips on driving safely, with new information on the toll dangerous driving had on school children last year. About a third of the children killed in vehicle crashes in 2021 were not wearing seatbelts or other restraints, according to FLHSMV.

Additionally, FLHSMV urges drivers to “Be alert and watch for children especially near schools, bus stops, school buses and in school parking lots. Pay extra attention to the lower speed limits in school zones. Only drive or park in authorized areas to drop off or pick up children at school.”

In addition to fines, continued offenses of driving past a stopped school bus with the signal out can end up with a driver having a suspended license for a year, according to the state. Driving on the side children exit a school bus has increased penalties.

AAA had driver safety tips for how to navigate around school buses:

  • Two Lane Street – All drivers moving in either direction on a two-way street must stop for a school bus displaying a stop signal, and must remain stopped until the road is clear of children AND the school bus stop arm is withdrawn.
  • Multi-Lane Paved Median – All drivers moving in either direction must stop for a school bus displaying a stop signal, and must remain stopped until the road is clear of children AND the school bus stop arm is withdrawn.
  • Divided Highway – Traffic approaching an oncoming school bus does not need to stop if there is a raised barrier such as a concrete divider or at least five feet of unpaved space separating the lanes of traffic. However, these motorists should slow down and watch for students loading or unloading from the bus. 

“Our morning and afternoon commutes will start to look different as the school year begins, but one thing that must remain constant is our commitment to driving safely,” FLHSMV Executive Director, Terry L. Rhodes said at the beginning of August. “This Child Safety Awareness Month, and every month, I urge all motorists to be vigilant on the roads and remind parents and caregivers to ensure children are protected when in and around cars.”

A AAA spokesperson said it was also important to follow speed limit rules and avoid using hand-held cell phones while driving.

“Keep kids safe as they return back to school by avoiding risky behaviors like speeding and using your handheld mobile phone,” Michele Harris, Florida Public Affairs Director, AAA – The Auto Club Group, said. “According to a new AAA survey of Florida drivers, 38% admitted to speeding in an active school zone and 32% admitted to using their hand-held cell phone while driving in active school zones.”

A recent survey from AAA surveyed Florida drivers. From the Sunshine State results, drivers admitted to using their phones on the road and speeding in school zones. To help drivers and children stay safe during the school season, AAA released a set of best practice tips for motorists.

“When driving through a school zone, it’s extremely important that you lower your speed and raise your awareness to ensure you can respond to any potential hazards on the roadway,” Mark Jenkins, a AAA spokesperson, said. “Remember, in Florida it is illegal to use your handheld mobile device while driving through an active school zone.”

AAA’s safety tips include:

  • Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
  • Come to a complete stop. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
  • Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing.
  • Share the road with bicyclists. Children on bicycles are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist.
  • Talk to your teen. Car crashes are one of the leading causes of death for teens in the United States, and nearly one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occurs during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Get evidence-based guidance and tips at TeenDriving.AAA.com.