Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May Saftey Tip: Young Children and the Road

It’s every parent’s nightmare – a child getting away from you and running in front of a car.

In 2001, 36 children (0 – 16 years of age) were killed as pedestrians on Australian roads. Although the group of 11 – 16 year olds is the group most at risk, younger children also need to be protected.

A little girl I know was recently lost this way, and it is too horrible to risk it happening again to another child. Children will always be children, but there are ways we can minimise such risks to them.

Why do Children Need Adult Supervision at Roads?

Children are small and not always visible to drivers, especially in busy traffic or bad conditions. They don’t understand that cars may not see them just because they can see the car.

Until they are at least eight, children have trouble judging details such as a car’s speed, how far away a car really is and which direction a sound is coming from. They also register their observations differently to adults and don’t fully understand what safety is.

Youngsters also have short attention spans and are easily distracted. They focus on what they deem to be important and can act unpredictably, even in repeat situations.

It is also important to remember that children may know the theories and be able to recite the rules long before they can actually carry them out reliably. There is no magic point at which children become ‘safe’ from road dangers; but those under eight should never be crossing roads alone.

What can adults do?

The single most important act parents and carers can do in terms of child safety is set a perfect example. Make sure you always stop and look, use crossings whenever possible, walk, choose safe places, and so on. Children will copy what they see you regularly do, so make it something worth copying.

Physical restraint is the obvious adult behaviour. When walking alongside roads, no matter how quiet the road appears to be, either hold the child, have the child hold you, keep tension on the reins and/or strap toddlers into the stroller.

When walking with children, keep them on the inside of the path – that is, stay between them and the road. If there is no path, walk on the right hand verge.

Ensure that children stay close to you – running ahead means you have no control when cars reverse out of driveways and the like.

Always put children in and out of cars on the side away from any traffic. If you have more than one child with you, set the rule that children must be touching the car at all times. Thus, the children not actually in the car will be close and not running into danger.

What do I teach my preschool child?

It is important to teach children road safety as soon as possible. Obviously, it will take time before all rules are learned and supervision can be eased, but starting early offers the best protection.

Hopefully, your preschooler knows where the kerb is and to never step over it without an adult’s assistance. Repeat “the road is for traffic and the pavement is for people.” It seems obvious, but a child can’t avoid roads and cars unless they know what a road is.

Train children to always stop at the kerb. This could save a life when the child runs off from a park or house out of adult reach.

The use of “Stop” and “go” will give you control over the child’s behaviour such that you can react instantly to circumstances. Introducing the words and concept of “Stop, Look, Listen, Think” begins the formal road safety process.

Talking to children at every opportunity is also important. Tell them why you are following the steps of the safety routine. For instance, “Stop here. We must check it is safe first,” “Can you hear any cars coming?” or “I can’t see any cars moving here; do you think it is safe?”

Explain the road rules and signs as you apply them, including the use of indicators, round-abouts and one-way streets. As this information sinks in, the children will have more skills for anticipating what cars will do. Constant mentions of safety and repetition of the details will make the ideas easier for the child to remember.

Children will respond better to the road rules if they have an understanding of why the rules are in place.

Give children the chance to practise safety rules. Let them chose a safe place to cross or confirm that no cars are coming – praise correct choices and explain the problem with any unsafe choices they make. Doing is a more effective teacher than listening.

Important Rules for Children

For preschoolers, the main rule should be “Never step onto a road without an adult.” The other rules still need to be told to preschoolers to ready them for later stages.

o IF IT IS NOT SAFE, DO NOT CROSS THE ROAD
o Stay on paths and don’t wonder onto the road
o Walk on the inside of the path, not alongside the road
o If there is no path, walk on the right side of the road. Make sure it is in single file around bends, in the dark or during heavy traffic.
o Be seen – use bright colours in the day and reflective or white clothing after dark.
o Remember to be careful crossing cyclist lanes as well – bikes are fast but quiet.
o Look for a safe place to cross – not from between parked cars.
o Follow instructions (e.g. pedestrian lights) regardless of what other people may do.
o Consider traffic islands to break the road into two crossings.
o Stay alert – keep looking and listening even when you are crossing the road.




Tash Hughes is the owner of Word Constructions and assists businesses in preparing all written documentation and web site content. Tash also writes parenting and business articles for inclusion in newsletter and web sites.

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