During the back to school time, follow traffic regulations, know the traffic pattern in your area, be patient, leave home early and do not send text messages while driving in school zones.
By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
DORAL, FL – Summer is coming to an end and while some parents are getting ready to go back to their routines, the Doral Police Department has been preparing to receive the new school year on three fronts: traffic, school safety, and citizen education.
The new back-to-school operation plan will not only benefit parents but city residents and visitors who pass through Doral school zones that may be affected by this new dynamic.
In order to have an organized and safe atmosphere in the streets and over schools, the Police will be present in 12 schools, among public, private and charters, with extra units in the areas that have the biggest problems. This is the case of the Downtown area that will open the new Downtown Doral Charter Upper School.
“There might be some traffic problems in that zone. So, we will have extra units out there helping the officer that is assigned to the school to establish the traffic pattern that parents must follow to avoid having difficulties,” says Doral Police Lieutenant, Daniel Muñecas.
The information on traffic patterns, as well as the officers in charge and the arrival and dismissal times of each school, will be available on the City of Doral main Website through a tool called GEO Mapping that the Police designed with the support of its IT department.
On the other hand, on August 14th, 18 VMS boards will be displayed at different city streets with messages about driving safety, traffic regulations and other important information that people should know.
“Those messages will also be useful for business owners that are around school zones. It serves as a visual reminder that school it’s starting and the measures people should take to prevent accidents,” says Lieutenant Muñecas.
In addition, there will be an educational component to address the traffic front as the Police intention is not to give unlimited tickets but to create a cooperation atmosphere in which each citizen complies with the rules.
For this reason, The Police will distribute brochures in Spanish and English along school zones during the first week of classes in order to provide statistics on deaths and accidents among children in the United States, which could have been avoided if people would have followed the law.
Although the Police are constantly working in providing wide information about back to school, we must remember that it is our responsibility as civilians to know and follow the laws, to make use of all the educational resources available, and to familiarize with our surroundings.
It is also our responsibility as residents and visitors to come up with a plan prior to the beginning of school to reduce the impact that the authorities back to school operation plan may have.
This means having patience and following a schedule. “People need to understand that many parents and students are not familiarized with this dynamic. During the first two weeks, leave early and manage your time. If you normally leave the house at 8 a.m., do it 20 minutes before that,” advices Rey Valdes, Doral Police Public Information Officer.
On the other hand, it is important to know the arrival and dismissal times of the schools around you. If, for instance, a school first dismissal is at 2 p.m. and the second at 4 p.m., the street operation plan will begin at 1:30 p.m. and end at 4:30 p.m.
“You have to plan ahead. This is like a domino effect because when you leave in a hurry, you get agitated and you may not follow the law. Is in those moments when accidents happen,” says Valdes.
And what are the basic traffic rules that citizens should follow? The first one is to obey posted speed limits in school zones. The Police will soon deploy speed monitors at various streets of Doral equipped with speed radars that display the speed of oncoming vehicles.
In addition, drivers must comply with the laws regarding school buses. Vehicles that are behind one or coming from the opposite direction are not allowed to pass them when they stop.
Also, those who drive in school zones must be especially careful with not texting even in students pick up and drop off areas where accidents have also been reported.
It should be noted that although the text and drive law has not been enforced yet, Florida agencies can implement their own policies and decide whether they want to give tickets or just a warning to people who text while driving.
In Doral, the policy is to leave it up at the officer’s discretion, who can decide if it’s best to give a traffic citation or just a warning to infractors.
However, the law is not as flexible when children are involved since starting October 1st any person that text or has the phone-in-hand while driving in a school zone, will be written a traffic citation. This law will also apply in work zones.
But beyond penalties, drivers have to understand that this type of behavior puts the safety of children and adults at risk, so there is no reason to take the hands off the wheel to send a text message.
“It’s about paying attention at all times while driving. Accidents don’t happen to people that are fully aware of their surroundings,” says Lieutenant Muñecas.
It is also about following the instructions from school zones officers and those from traffic monitors that although not using a uniform, have the role to support the Police Department and to help traffic flow.
“Don’t assume that because they are not wearing a uniform with a batch you can disregard their instructions because they are part of the traffic plan we have elaborated for each school. If a man or a woman is pointing at one direction, take it as there’s a reason behind,” warns Rey Valdes.
In addition to this, drivers should park their vehicles in permitted areas to avoid traffic blockages or penalties. Those who decide not to are at risk of being towed not only by the Police but by private companies that in addition to the towing charge, will request for payment of administrative and storage fees.
Besides addressing the traffic component in the return to school plan, Doral Police works year-round to protect the safety of parents, students, teachers and people who drive and move around schools.
With this in mind, The Police created the “Best Practices Manual’ that has been shared with different city schools. “We’ve sat down with schools to go over what to do in a code red situation and have discussed each school individual plan to give recommendations for improvement that schools can apply before classes start,” says Lieutenant Muñecas.
In addition, Police officers became rifle certified this summer. “In a lot of past school shootings, active shooters had more than just a handgun, so the City of Doral Police Department wanted all the schools’ police officers to be trained in riffle in order to have the equal firepower to address any threat,” says lieutenant Muñecas.
In the same line, the Police organize different drills throughout the year with officers not only from Doral but from other municipalities and at different locations. “In them, we do training exercises in which some officers play the bad guy role and others of defenders,” says Rey Valdes.
It should be clarified that the response protocol in shootings has changed over the years after learning that the best weapon against active shooters is immediate intervention. In past decades, when a mass shooting occurred, the Police had to wait for the special units to arrive before coming into action. Currently, one officer is enough to stop a threat.
In the face of shooting, the Doral Police recommends people to run, hide or fight. “First run as fast as you can. If this is not possible, hide in any nearby place such as a bathroom, an office or a storage closet. When unable to do so, fight with whatever you have at hand”, advises Rey Valdes.