Walking is active transportation which can help kids establish a lifelong habit of physical activity. Children’s abilities to judge risk and choose safe walking routes and places to cross the street change as they grow. Research shows that they don’t have the capacity to make good road user decisions until about the age of 10. Even after that age, they still need instruction from adults on choosing where and how to walk safely.
Children are among the most vulnerable road users because of their varying developmental stages. An average of 80 child pedestrians experience a collision with a motor vehicle each week in Canada. Each year more than 4,000 children are hit while playing outdoors or walking to neighbourhood destinations.
Help kids learn safe pedestrian skills. Give them opportunities for discussion and practice in real-world situations that help them become familiar with their neighbourhood.
How to Prepare Kids to be Safe Pedestrians
You can teach your children the skills to become confident, safe and independent pedestrians by being a role model. Show kids how to:
- Choose where to walk. Choose routes with good accessibility, walkability, and lighting.
- Find the best places to cross. Never assume a pedestrian “Walk” signal, or a marked crosswalk, makes you 100 per cent safe.
- Assess a vehicle’s speed.
- Judge safe gaps in traffic. Check every lane of traffic and gap (just because one vehicle has stopped does not mean others will).
- Walk with full attention. Don’t be distracted, be aware of surroundings, and don’t use electronic devices or focus on catching a Pokemon while crossing a road.
- Be as visible to vehicle drivers as possible.
Tips for children 4-6 years…
Speak in simple terms about the basic walking safety skills you’ll be doing together. Hold hands with your child while walking because they may do the unexpected (like suddenly dart off the sidewalk).
Show and explain what makes a good place to cross the street and how pedestrian controlled crossings work. If there is a button at the crosswalk, have them push it. Talk about tools that help pedestrians be as visible as possible to drivers (for example: reflective items, flashlights during evening and night, light coloured outerwear, etc). Children in this age range must be supervised.
These kids understand somewhat more complex safety principles. Discuss how the safest way to cross the street could change depending on the location and volume of traffic. Teach the principles of assessing speeds and stopping to wait, listen and look before moving into any crossing. Reinforce the importance of being visible to vehicle drivers.
Children in this age range should still be supervised by an adult while they practise these more complex skills in their neighbourhood.
At this point in development, children’s ability to reason, their attention and decision-making skills are more developed. These skills are all essential to pedestrian safety. Kids this age are generally prepared for a mix of independent and supervised walking. Parents and caregivers should help them prepare to walk alone by planning out simple, low traffic routes. Walk the route with your child become familiar with it, talk about where to walk and, if necessary, where to cross before they try it alone. Reinforce the importance of visibility by picking out a flashlight and some reflective attachments together.
Children need you to demonstrate and model safe pedestrian skills and to support them in practicing these throughout their neighbourhood. Make walking and safe pedestrian practices healthy family habits!
Author’s Bio: Linda Phillips is a Senior Policy Analyst in Injury Prevention at the Ministry of Health who works on fall prevention for frail seniors and vulnerable road user safety. When she’s not preventing injuries she loves to horseback ride.
About Kids Health: Pedestrian Safety for Kids
Parachute Canada: Pedestrian Safety
Parachute Canada: Pedestrian Safety Community Guide
Parachute Canada: Pedestrian Facts
Safe Routes Info: Teaching Children to Walk Safely
Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators: Coutermeasures to Improve Pedestrian Safety in Canada