It’s a phrase we all teach our children: Look both ways when crossing the street. Yet child pedestrian deaths continue to be a major problem around the world. Throughout the European Union, children 13 and under account for a higher percentage of pedestrian deaths than any other age group other than the elderly. In Israel, 20% of pedestrian deaths involve kids. And here in the U.S., nearly a quarter of the car-related deaths involving children occur to kids on foot. *1
At what age can children safely cross the street by themselves?
A series of recent studies provides some insight into these high child pedestrian fatality rates, and shows that children lack the same ability adults have to accurately judge their surroundings. In 2013, Anat Meir and her colleagues used eye-tracking technology to assess how adults and children (who ranged in ages from 7 to 13) determined when it was safe to cross the road. The youngest children–those ages 7 to 9–showed the least amount of caution when crossing. They often stepped out into the virtual roads with little or no hesitation, even when their field of vision was obstructed and they couldn’t see oncoming traffic.
“We had parents looking on who were like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe my child just crossed there!'” Meir says. “It caused them to reassess their child’s road-crossing abilities.” The older kids struggled as well, but for different reasons. They were typically less decisive, lingering on the curb for an excessive amount of time, which suggested they had a harder time than adults distinguishing between safe and hazardous situations. Follow-up interviews revealed that they didn’t have a good grasp of how things like car speed or field of vision impacted their ability to cross.
The good news is that a control group of children who received safety instructions and 40-minutes of hazard detection training did significantly better than their peers – to the point that their street crossing skills nearly resembled those of adults.
At some point in the future, it would be nice to have some sort of commercial virtual reality program that could actually train children in street crossing skills under various situations. (Are you listening, Occulus Rift developers?) But in the meantime, traditional safety training of the kind we’ve been doing for years can help as well. Here is a handy reference of some of the resources we offer:
- Play the ball chase game with your kids
- Read our kids book: How To Not Get Runned Over
- Print your child a road safety coloring page
1. Rachel Nuwer, “Kids can do better in the crosswalk,” Scientific American, Dec. 2015, Vol. 313(6):18-19