In Canada, pedestrian injuries are one of the leading causes of injury-related deaths for children 14 years of age and younger. While there has been a 43-per-cent decrease in pedestrian fatalities in children ages 0 to 14 years between 2007 and 2016, each death remains a tragedy - most often a preventable one. Injuries to child pedestrians are often severe. They may be left with long-term disabilities, emotional strain and financial burdens that can last a lifetime.
Many Canadian communities are taking an interest in promoting walking, both for its health benefits and as a "green" initiative. In some communities, this has led to a renewed family enthusiasm for walking to school. It is vital to encourage parents and caregivers to talk to children about pedestrian safety during these walks. It is equally important to create more walkable communities that promote safe, pedestrian-friendly environments. Increased pedestrian numbers actually heighten driver awareness, which can result in slower rates of speed and fewer child pedestrian injuries.
General pedestrian safety tips
Distractions put pedestrians at a much higher risk of being struck by a vehicle. Make it a rule not to use cell phone, or other hand-held electronics while walking, and especially not while crossing streets.
Tips for parents and children
Younger children usually don't have the cognitive and physical skills to make safe judgments about road crossing and traffic. Your presence and guidance can help reduce the risk of injury. Walk with your children, and talk to them about pedestrian safety. Your presence and guidance can help reduce the risk of injury. Once our child reaches the toddler stage, he or she can start to learn about safety.
- Many young children are fascinated by cars and trucks: use that fascination to talk about how vehicles must share the roads and how they can harm people who walk or cycle because vehicles are so big, heavy, and travel fast.
- A two-year-old child riding in a stroller can understand that cars belong on the road and people belong on the sidewalk.
- A three- or four-year-old child can be taught that he or she must always hold your hand when crossing the street. They can help you look both ways to watch for cars and can learn that it is not safe to run out into the road, even after a favourite toy.
Be a role model. Talk to your child about safe pedestrian practices while you walk. Over time, your frequent demonstrations will become ingrained in their approach to crossing roads. But remember, if you jaywalk, or run across a street against a light with your child, or talk on your cell phone while walking, you can expect them to do the same thing when they are crossing the street independently. Ask others who are responsible for your child's welfare (older siblings, grandparents, daycare staff) to discuss safe crossing when they accompany your child on outings.
Talk about what you do before you cross a road. Teach your child to use their eyes and their ears. Always, think, look and listen. Even if there is a crossing guard, or traffic signals, to assist them.
- Teach them to stop at the curb, look left, right and left again, and to listen for oncoming traffic. When the way is clear, or all the cars at the crosswalk or intersection have come to a full stop, teach children to cross the road, and not to double back or run. Children should be told not to cross between parked cars, or in the middle of a street, but at a corner.
- Also, they should treat driveways and alleyways as "mini roads" and watch for moving cars. If there are no sidewalks, children should walk in a single file, away from the road, facing traffic. After a while, these behaviours will become second nature to your child.
Build on earlier conversations with information appropriate to your child's level of understanding. Discussions can come naturally, as there are many opportunities and circumstances that invite a brief comment or teaching moment:
- When weather conditions change (e.g. snow, fog, rain)
- When a ball goes over the fence and onto the road
- When witnessing jaywalking or other unsafe pedestrian practice
- When taking, or deciding on, a new route to school or the playground
- When visiting a new place
- When moving to a new neighbourhood
- When it's a child's first time walking with friends
- When a child is preparing to walk alone for the first time
To cross a street safely by themselves, children need three important skills:
- Able to decide on and use a safe crossing route
- Able to properly assess a vehicle's speed
- Able to judge safe gaps in traffic
To help decide when your child is ready to cross by themselves, you should think about the streets that your child will be crossing (e.g., on the way to school), and assess if your child has all three skills. If they don't, they will still need to walk with you or another adult.
Distractions put children at a much higher risk of being struck by a vehicle. Even walking with a group of children can distract a child from crossing safely, so tell your child to keep this in mind. It's great to walk with your friends, but don't forget the safety rules. If your child has a cell phone, or other hand-held electronics, make it a rule that they do not use them while they are walking, and especially not while they are crossing streets.
Halloween can be an exciting time for children and with the distraction of candy and costumes, safety rules can easily be forgotten. In fact, research shows that distractions can increase a child's chances of being struck by a car. Check out these simple tips to keep Halloween night a safe night for all.