We begin teaching kids to look both ways before crossing the street long before they’re independent enough to do it on their own. What else should we teach them about staying safe while walking? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, child pedestrian safety should cover:
- Walking near traffic
- Crossing the street
- Intersection crossing
- Parking lot safety
- School bus safety
NHTSA developed a complete curriculum for children from kindergarten through the fifth grade to educate children about these safety rules in developmentally appropriate ways. The lessons build upon one another, laying the foundation for good habits as children become more independent. Resources include lesson plans, vocabulary cards, and sample scenarios. They also include information sheets to send home to parents and caregivers, which provide useful suggestions for how to help kids practice these new skills at home.
It’s important for children to understand early where it’s safe to walk and what situations could be potentially dangerous.
- Sidewalks are best. Sidewalks are the safest places for pedestrians since it keeps them distanced from the roadway. This is especially true for children. If a sidewalk is available, it should always be used.
- Walk facing traffic. If there is no sidewalk available, children should walk on the side of the road facing traffic, off the roadway if possible. This allows those on foot to see and react to potential dangers, which is not possible if their backs are facing traffic.
- Use safe behavior near traffic. Avoid playing games or pushing while walking, and walking with a parent, trusted adult or older sibling are all good practices to reinforce lessons on walking safety. Kids should also be educated on the dangers of distraction. Devices and toys should be put away while walking to ensure they are alert to their surroundings.
- Always stop at driveways. Educate children to stop as they approach a driveway. They should cross once they look and confirm there are no cars coming or going.
- Dress for visibility. Bright clothes with reflective materials help drivers see pedestrians, especially when it’s dark outside. Ensure that children understand how critical it is to be visible to drivers.
Younger children should always walk with an adult or an older sibling, as appropriate. As children get older, they’ll be better able to understand safety, but still may not be able to determine when situations are safe (like when it’s okay to cross the street). Even older children who have gained some independence should still walk regularly with adults to demonstrate they know and practice safe habits.
Crossing the Street Safely
Crossing the street is a big step toward independence for children. The following skills are crucial for children to learn in order to cross the street safely.
- Get help from an adult. If they are in ages between kindergarten and third grade, children should always cross under adult supervision.
- Find a safe place to cross. Crosswalks are the safest place for pedestrians to cross the road, but they may not always be available. Only cross in places with a good view of oncoming traffic from both directions. Educate children on the common types of visual barriers to look for, such as bushes, trash cans and parked cars.
- Stop at the edge. They should always pause at the curb so that they get a good view of traffic. It also gives drivers a chance to see them.
- Look and listen. In addition to looking both ways before crossing, encourage kids to listen for cars. Emergency vehicles en route to a call can be heard long before they can be seen and may be travelling above posted speed limits. If they hear a siren, make sure children know to wait until the emergency vehicle has passed before proceeding.
- Cross quickly and safely. Children should be taught to cross the street in a straight line, without delay but always walking. Running increases the potential for falls.
Younger children (kindergarten through third grade) should be taught not to cross the street without an adult or older sibling. Fourth and fifth graders are typically mature enough to safely cross but may forget to go through all of the above steps. It’s important to help them practice crossing so they’ll remember each step. Older children should also be reminded to be extra careful in bad weather, since rain or snow reduces visibility for drivers. Remind older children they are role models for younger siblings and other children and encourage them to reinforce safe behaviors for those looking to them as an example.
Crossing at Intersections
Another element of street crossing is to teach children where to look for pedestrian crossing signals and what these symbols mean. Educate them to look for stop signs, traffic lights, crosswalks and pedestrian walk signals when they’re looking for a place to cross. Emphasize that they must still use the five steps of safe street crossing. Just because the signal says “walk” doesn’t mean it’s safe to cross without caution. They should stop, look, and listen for cars before stepping into an intersection, even when they’re with an adult or sibling.
Parking lots can be especially dangerous for pedestrians since drivers are often focused on finding parking spots. Children need to understand that because of their size, they’re even more difficult for drivers to spot in this situation. Explain the concept of the “danger zones” surrounding vehicles where they’re hardest to see. It’s important for children to learn the following parking lot safety tips:
- Always cross parking lots with an adult. Adults will be much better able to identify dangerous situations. They’ll also be easier for drivers to see.
- Practice safe behaviors. Children should never run or play in parking lots. They should walk alongside their parent or caregiver and pay attention to their surroundings.
- Get in and out of the car safely. Children should stay close to the car, getting in and out on the driver’s side if possible.
- Ask for help if they drop a toy. Children should never wander away from an adult in a parking lot, even to pick up their favorite toy. The same goes for a toy dropped underneath or near a car, even if the vehicle is stopped.
School Bus Safety
Whether walkers or bus riders, children should understand the basics of school bus safety. It is likely they will still encounter buses as part of their school day or when traveling for a class field trip. Children should be educated on the following school bus safety ideas:
- Identify “danger zones.” Reiterate the idea of danger zones and show children how to stay out of them, so they will be more easily seen by the bus driver. Explain to children that the larger the vehicle, the more difficult it is for a driver to see them.
- Wait for the bus safely. Whether they’re at home or school, children should stand a safe distance from the road. They should never play or run near the bus stop.
- Boarding the bus. Children should wait for the driver to open the door and signal for them to board. They should use the handrail and board the bus single file.
- Good bus behavior. When children are on the bus, the bus driver is in charge. They should stay seated, talk quietly, and keep their hands to themselves.
- Safely exiting the bus. Children should leave their seats in an orderly fashion, holding the handrail as they walk down the steps, and move away from the bus to get out of the danger zone. Explain how to safely cross in front of the bus if their destination is across the street. This ensures they know to walk far enough in front of the bus that the bus driver can see them, even if the vehicle has no front crossing arm.
Protecting Our Smallest Pedestrians
Children are some of the most vulnerable pedestrians on our streets. Give them the best chance of avoiding a crash by teaching them the above safety principles. Set a good example by following pedestrian safety laws wherever you go, taking the time to explain your choices to young people in your group. Help lay the foundation for safety habits that will last them a lifetime.