CRESTVIEW — When North Okaloosa schools reopen Monday morning, the biggest hazards students face aren't math tests or being the spaz in gym class.
Area lawmen say inattentive drivers and students can cause serious harm to kids walking or bicycling to and from school or the school bus.
Active school zones
Area school zones are marked with a flashing warning light mounted on a pole. Speeding fines are as much as $451.
Crestview Police Department community policing officer Sam Kimmons said people speeding through school zones is "one of our biggest complaints."
Equally hazardous, Kimmons said, are distracted drivers in school zones.
"You'll see people texting when they come through," he said. "Sometimes I see them reading books. I've seen ladies come through putting make-up on. But the telephone is the No. 1 distraction."
Kimmons reminded motorists that beginning Oct. 1, it is illegal to text and drive in Florida.
Biking safely to school
Children who ride bikes to school must learn the rules of the road and obey traffic laws, Kimmons said.
Bicyclists must ride on the right, not facing traffic, and stop at stop signs, according to safety materials Kimmons distributed at Riverside Elementary School's Thursday open house.
"Some of the kids go through the four-way stop like they own the place," Kimmons said.
Under Florida law, bikers under 16 must wear a helmet. Carrying an extra passenger is illegal, as is wearing ear buds or headphones, Kimmons' materials stated.
Jahvon Holgood, a Crestview High School junior, visiting with Kimmons on Thursday, grinned when the officer reminded him that he was the first student the officer encountered texting with both hands while cycling to school.
"I don't do that anymore," Jahvon said.
School bus safety
All traffic in both directions must stop for school buses with red lights flashing and "stop" signs deployed. Disregarding school bus "stop" signals can incur fines starting at $165, Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Michele Nicholson said.
Traffic traveling in the opposite direction is exempt from stopping only if the road is separated by a fence or other physical barrier or by an unpaved median at least five feet wide.
"Thankfully we don’t have a major issue with people disregarding stopped school buses," Nicholson said.
However, distracted kids pose a hazard to themselves, especially near the road, Kimmons said. Children chasing pets or playing ball at the school bus stop might run into the road after the animal or ball.
Ultimately, Kimmons and Nicholson said, children and drivers both must exercise caution and be alert around school zones and school buses.
"There are some people who are in a hurry and think they're the only ones that matter," Kimmons said. "Some people just don't care."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.