St. Johns County campaign to address motorist, bicyclist, pedestrian safety

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office and the county are working on the "If Only" awareness campaign to educate residents and tourists about the laws pertaining to motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, and to enforce those laws.

"With the understanding of 'If only I'd known this,' or, 'If only I'd known that,' we may have had a safer driving environment," said Michael Ryan, communications manager for St. Johns County.

The campaign is motivated by a half dozen fatalities of bicyclists and pedestrians in and around St. Augustine over the past year. It is projected to kick off May 1.

"The fortunate thing about what we know about these fatalities is none of them involve children, so we know we're addressing juvenile population with bike safety laws," Sgt. Catherine Payne said. "It's really that missing link."

Officials are getting the word out through a public service announcement and by going to community events, passing out education materials, such as pamphlets and posters, and safety equipment, such as lights for bicycles and helmets.

Officials are also partnering with car dealerships to put signage on floor mats of cars.

"We realized there was a huge gap in education for the general public in St. Johns County," Payne said.

The $10,000 in funding for the campaign is coming from drug seizure and forfeiture money. The goal is to educate people on the laws of the road, specifically "elusive laws" people may not be aware of, like the 3-foot law that requires motorists to provide 3 feet of room between their car and a pedestrian, or that bicycles are considered vehicles in Florida.

The campaign umbrellas all laws pertaining to motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, so it includes hit-and-run crashes.

It's been exactly five months since Jo-Lee Manning lost her daughter, Haley Smith, in a hit-and-run accident. Now Manning hopes the campaign helps so other other mothers don't have to say goodbye to their daughters too soon.

"Pay attention," she said. "Nothing that's important that you can't pay attention to your vehicle and what you're doing. It's a weapon. It can destroy lives in the blink of an eye."

The Sheriff's Office plans to possibly do a separate campaign specifically for hit-and-runs in the future based on pending legislation.