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Why Kids Are at Risk

Author / Coordinator:  
National SAFE KIDS Campaign
March 2007

“I can do it by myself.” 

Asserting independence is a natural part of children’s development, and parents often want to support their growing self-reliance. Yet when it comes to crossing the street, you might want to think twice before letting your children go solo. Very few children under age 10 can deal safely with traffic. Here’s why:

  • Children have difficulty judging how fast cars are moving, how far away they are and which direction traffic sounds are coming from.
  • Young children often have mistaken beliefs about cars. They think cars can stop instantly, or that if they can see a driver, the driver can see them.
  • In general, children have trouble recognizing and reacting to danger.

Children ages 4 and under are at greatest risk of traffic-related pedestrian death and injury. In many instances, parents overestimate their children’s pedestrian skills. Most children are struck in streets or driveways near their homes when darting out between parked cars, walking along the edge of the road, or crossing in the middle of the block or in front of a turning car.

Other risk factors:

  • Childhood pedestrian injuries occur most often in residential areas and on local roads that are straight, paved and dry.
  • In 2002, 40 percent of traffic-related child pedestrian deaths occurred between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Most (79 percent) occurred in the middle of a block or at other nonintersection locations.
  • Young children are at increased risk of pedestrian death and injury in driveways. More than half of all pedestrian injuries occur when a vehicle is backing up.
  •  For all age groups, traffic-related pedestrian death is twice as likely in cities as in the country; the reverse is true of pedestrian deaths not involving traffic.

High traffic volume, a high number of parked vehicles on the street, higher posted speed limits, absence of a divided highway and few pedestrian control devices such as crosswalks are all factors that increase the likelihood of pedestrian injury.