Orlando-area officers are ready for back-to-school traffic -- are you?

Officers, deputies ready to enforce traffic laws, especially in school zones

By Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Law enforcement officers in the Orlando area are ready for the first day of school -- are you?

On Friday,  33 men and women who make up the Orlando Police Department's traffic enforcement motorcycle unit flashed their lights and turned on their sirens, making sure their new motorcycles are ready for the first day of school. 

"In the beginning, we have a lot of violators because people are not used to flashing lights being on anymore after the big school break," said Master Patrol Officer Dirk Merks.

In his 18 years of motorcycle patrol with OPD, Merks said he has seen a lot of near misses with crossing guards and children. 

"We've had people run through school zones at 80 mph," he said. 

[RELATED: 100 students die walking to, from school each year, research showsSchool bus safety: Know the traffic rules]

That's why Orlando police are reminding drivers to be extra careful come Monday morning. 

Lt. Tom Woodhall offered some advice to the public Friday before the big day arrives.

"It's important we go out there and make sure our children and everyone is safe," Woodhall said.

Here are some of those tips: 

  1. Remember you are not allowed to pass a stopped school bus unless you are traveling in the opposite direction with a more than 5-foot median between you and the bus.
  2. Be aware of extra kids both walking and on bikes who tend to sometimes move in and out of traffic.
  3. Pay extra attention to lower speed limits in school zones.
  4. Watch for and obey signals from school crossing guards.
  5. Only drive and park in authorized areas to drop off or pick up children at school
  6. Pedestrians, make sure you use crosswalks.
  7. Keep your phones down. The new texting while driving law could cost you.
  8. Kids, wear your helmets while biking. Children under 16 without a helmet could be sent home with a warning or ticket to the parent.

Drivers should also keep in mind the new law when it comes to texting and driving.

As of now, drivers can get ticketed if an officer simply sees a driver texting while driving. Come October, the "hands-free" portion of the new law takes effect, which means drivers can get pulled over if they are on the phone at all in school zones. 

Merks said the Orlando Police Department is currently issuing warnings. 

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said his deputies will not be so lenient, especially in school zones.

"Remember, we will be strictly enforcing the hands-free new laws that went into effect, specifically for our school zones," Mina said. "All of our traffic enforcement will be out here to enforce in the coming weeks." 

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