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How Should Children Cross The Road? Carefully

By Aaron Crowe

One of the first childhood lessons when crossing a street is to look both ways for traffic before walking across.

It’s a simple thing to remember, but even adults often don’t remember it, as seen on this video of a woman leading her children between two parked cars into a street without looking for oncoming cars.

Walking to school safely can be deadly. In 2009, more than 23,000 children ages 5 to 15 were injured and 250 were killed by cars when they were struck while walking or bicycling, according to Safe Routes to Schools. That represented 25% of all children’s traffic fatalities and 15% of all children’s traffic injuries.

For children who live less than a mile from school, 43% are driven to school — an easy distance that children can walk or bike if conditions are safe, according to Safe Routes to Schools.

As children get ready to return to school, here are some tips to review with them on how to walk to school safely:

Be aware of surroundings. This is a good way to start the discussion on school traffic safety, says Ellie Hirsch, founder of Mommy Masters, an online parenting resource. “Make sure they know not to talk to strangers, not to approach any cars and to trust their instincts,” Hirsch wrote in an email. “Let them know if they feel they are in danger, all manners are out the door. Scream for help, run away and do whatever is necessary to leave the situation.”

Look both ways and use a crosswalk. This is a basic lesson that too many people don’t follow, unfortunately. The California Office of Traffic Safety reminds children to cross at an intersection or crosswalk, if available, and to look both ways before crossing. When no cars are coming, walk, don’t run, across the street, and keep looking for cars while crossing.

Don’t walk alone. Young children shouldn’t be walking to school on their own, and especially not alone, Hirsch says. Children older than 12 should have a walking buddy or group, and parents can take turns walking behind them.

Children are in charge of their safety. Explain that they can’t expect a driver to follow the rules, so they have to be responsible for their safety when walking to school, Hirsch says. Not every car will stop at a stop sign, for example. 

Watch driveways. Whether biking or walking, children should pay attention to driveways where cars might not be able to see them, Hirsch recommends. Slow down when approaching a driveway.

Choose a safe route. Pick a walking route that has the least amount of traffic, Hirsch says. Make a fun map with your child.

Make learning fun. Because children can have difficulty learning consequences, it’s important to create a dynamic and interactive learning experience about traffic safety, says Teresa Signorelli, a child development expert at Marymount Manhattan College in New York who has written about helping children remember how to be safe. Activities include writing a “pledge” of street safety, taking a safety quiz, doing safety related art projects, and playing “I Spy” games where children find signs and other safety features on the road.

Practice auditory skills. Parents can ask children to identify different sounds they hear, such as a car horn, siren or truck engine, Signorelli says. Parents should ask children from which direction they believe the sounds are coming, she says. This includes removing headphones and not using a cellphone while walking so that they’re safe when crossing a street, says Robert Nickell, founder of DaddyScrubs who blogs about being a new dad.

Define street safety vocabulary. For younger children, Signorelli says, this can include introducing them to concepts such as “pedestrians,” “right-of-way,” “yield,” “one way” and “crossing guard.” For older children, they can include rationales for street rules and regulations.

Know emergency numbers. Make sure your kids know their home address and telephone number in case there’s an emergency or they get lost, Nickell recommends.

Along with saving lives, walking safely to school helps lessen traffic congestion and traffic use, according to Safe Routes to School. During the morning commute, driving to school represents 5% to 7% of miles driven and 10-14% of traffic on the road, according to the group.

 

Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.