Why Is It Important to Teach Traffic Safety to Children?
The answer to this question seems obvious: children do not have the maturity and understanding of adults, and they are a precious part of all our lives. However, beyond this there are other issues which make teaching children about traffic safety a great concern. Children often do not fully understand the potential results of a traffic incident. If children do not understand the basics of traffic safety, they may quickly make movements which cannot be anticipated by drivers. Characteristics of children in traffic include the following.
- A child’s height causes visibility problems for the child and drivers.
- Children have difficulty identifying speed and distance.
- Children have difficulty dealing with multiple distractions.
- Although young children can be trained to cross streets, they are easily distracted and may respond impulsively.
- Children walking alone tend to behave more responsibly than children in groups.
- Many children have difficulty determining right from left and in determining the importance and direction of sound.
- Many children believe the safest way to cross a street is to run.
Child Traffic Incident Characteristics
Studies of traffic incidents involving children as pedestrians or bicyclists reveal:
- Children are at fault in approximately 80 percent of pedestrian or bicyclist traffic incidents in which children are involved.
- Generally, the drivers involved in the accident were not speeding, were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, were not violating driving regulations, were driving straight and were attentive. Unsafe speed is cited as the primary factor in approximately five percent of the incidents.
- Although often receiving more attention from residents and the media, child-related incidents going to and from school are relatively rare (less than five percent of incidents).
Teaching Traffic Safety to Children
Teaching children about traffic safety requires repetitive discussions and examples. Some important messages include the following. Children should understand that the lessons apply to all streets.
- Set a good example. Behave responsibly as a pedestrian, bicyclist or driver. For example, look carefully before crossing streets and wear a seat belt while in a vehicle.
- Children should be taught to be defensive. They should not assume a driver sees them.
- Even when children are not at fault, they will be hurt or killed in a match with a vehicle.
- Never play in or near a street. Watching children while playing in the street does not provide adequate protection. The parent probably will not be able to react in time to prevent an accident, and it teaches children the incorrect message about staying out of streets except when necessary to cross.
- Always look in all directions before entering a street and never run into a street.
- Avoid crossing streets at mid-block, especially when parked vehicles may obstruct vision. Use stop signs, traffic signals and crossing guards when available.
- When crossing a street, do not assume a green light or WALK light means it is safe to cross. Look for traffic.
- Children should not follow others or run to others when they call until a safe crossing is available.
- When riding a bicycle, ride with the flow of traffic (not against it) as close to the right edge of the street as practical, in single file. Yield to pedestrians and maintain the bicycle properly.
Teach Children Actively
- Walk the route to school or other frequently used locations with children and point out safe practices. This includes locations such as where children may catch a bus.
- Teach children about traffic laws and encourage them to ask questions when they are unsure of what to do. Begin early and discuss safety with the child frequently. The most likely age for a child to be in a pedestrian or bicycle traffic incident is around 4 to 6 years of age.