Walking is part of our everyday lives, whether that be walking around the shops, walking to school or kinder with the kids, or taking a family walk to the park on a sunny afternoon with the dog. For children, taking their first step is a big milestone and a sign of their increasing independence. Once children learn to walk you will often find that they want to walk everywhere and will sometimes insist that they don’t need help from Mum, Dad or any other adult to do so!
While walking is great for health and fitness, being a pedestrian in a traffic environment does involve a number of hazards, especially for young children.
Why are child pedestrians at risk?
Roads are designed with adults in mind, however children aren’t ‘little adults’. They don’t have as much traffic experience or knowledge and are physically and cognitively less developed than adults.
A few examples of how children’s development and traffic experience places them at greater risk:
- Have you ever played a game of hide and seek where a child is hiding and they think because they can’t see you, you can’t see them…. However they have and arm or leg hanging out of their hiding spot that you can easily see?! The opposite applies here – children think that because they can see the car, truck, motorbike or bicycle that the driver will be able to see them. The reality is that children’s small size makes it harder for drivers to see them, particularly if they are behind objects like parked cars or bushes.
- They tend to only look ahead and often only notice one thing at a time. It could be their ball bouncing away, a dog on the other side of the road or something else that they find interesting and important and run towards to take a closer look, not realising the oncoming traffic.
- They can’t tell where sounds are coming from or judge speed and distance – this can cause them to think they can make it across the other side of the road before the car gets to them.
What can parents and carers do to help children to be safe pedestrians?
The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to help keep your children safe in and around traffic and prepare them to be safe pedestrians:
- Like with many other topics, supervision of children is the key to helping to keep them safe.
- Hold your child’s hand when near traffic, especially when crossing the road.
- Dress them in brightly coloured clothes to help them be seen by other road users.
- Children love to mimic what adults do, so setting a good example when crossing the road is one of the easiest ways to teach them how to be a safety pedestrian.
- Explain what you are doing, why it is important and how it keeps you safe when you are crossing the road together. Teach children to “Stop, Look, Listen and Think” before crossing the road and explain what this means. As children get older you can explain words like “fast”, “slow”, “near” and “far”. Talk about road signs, traffic lights and safe and dangerous places to cross the road.
- Providing supervised experience in using the road safely as a part of the journeys your family takes every day can help them to build their traffic knowledge and skills. This could include making the trip to kinder, school or the local park together along the safest footpaths and use safe crossing places as an example for your child to follow.
Research shows that children under age 12 do not have the skills and experience to be safe in traffic, so while children will become more independent in their travel as they become older, it is still important to provide supervision and regularly talk about and practice pedestrian safety behaviours.
For more information, tips and advice on pedestrian safety, please visit https://www.kidsafevic.com.au/road-safety/pedestrian-safety