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Crossing the Road

Around 80% of accidents involving children occur during the school holidays, at weekends, and in the afternoon and evening on school days. Because so many parents take special care, the journey to school does not constitute a high risk for children aged under 11.

As children grow older, they become more independent, and spend more time away from home. Casualty rates rise with the longer evenings: on summer days, deaths and serious injuries to children can be up to 20% higher than in winter.

Children in inner-city areas are at much greater risk. They make more journeys on foot and spend more time playing in the street because there are fewer play areas. There are also more cars parked in the street, reducing visibility and making crossing the road more hazardous.

The move from primary to secondary school gives 11-year-olds new independence. They walk or cycle to school with friends rather than with parents, the school journey is longer, and they have greater freedom to be outside and to visit friends on their own. More than a third of children injured while walking or playing are alone at the time – and only one in 10 are with an adult.

Why are young children at risk?

  • They are unable to determine which direction sounds are coming from.
  • They want to be independent. They don’t always want to hold an adult’s hand when near traffic.
  • They are small. They can be hard to see in traffic.  
  • They are fragile. Injuries are likely to be more severe because of their small size.
  • They are easily distracted. They need help to understand what to watch out and listen for.
  • Are fast and unpredictable. They can move out of safety and into danger in an instant.
Here are a few simple ideas for teaching children to be safer pedestrians:  

Try making some simple rules for your children. From an early age, children just want to run and explore, and they can be very easily distracted, and often wander or run off in any direction without warning. So when you're near the road - no matter how quiet it may seem try rule 1: always hold hands. This is the most effective way of keeping children safe from traffic injury.

Sometimes however, a child doesn’t want to be held. All children complain about holding hands at one time or another. Sometimes they don’t understand how this will keep them safe or they may just want to do it their way. Yet by making family rules about safe walking, explaining them and then sticking to them, you are helping your child learn how to become a safer pedestrian.

Your children will be learning new words all the time. They need to know what words like "road", "pavement", "kerb", or "traffic" mean. And in order to develop a normal, healthy fear of traffic, they'll need to know simple rule 2: roads are for traffic, pavements are for people.

Children are too small to be seen behind parked cars, so drivers will have little chance to stop should a child run out. A car travelling at 30mph needs at least 75 feet to stop safely, so even in quiet streets teach them rule 3: no playing by the road. Stick to the park or the garden instead, and don't let them out on their own.

While young children simply can't cross the road on their own, they can pick up some good habits from their parents. When you're out with young children, get them into the habit of using zebra and pelican crossings wherever possible, teaching them to stop, look, and listen for traffic every time. Children copy other people's habits, whether good or bad, so if their parents are seen to take risks, children may grow up doing the same.

Primary school children
Older children understand more about their environment, and have better judgement of speed and distance, but still need to learn about the dangers of traffic. They tend to be out on their own more, or play with groups of friends, but still don't particularly have road safety on their minds. They may play on bikes, scooters or skateboards, often near traffic, and with little else on their minds other than enjoying themselves. They may be more reckless in the company of their friends. Also if parents drive children to school regularly, they don't get much chance to learn or practice road safety or being a sensible pedestrian.

A third of children injured while crossing the road say that they did not stop before they stepped off the kerb – and as many say they did not look.

Secondary school children
For older children, life is full of distractions — whether it's having fun with their friends, chatting or texting on the mobile phone, listening to music, or just thinking about something else — so it's easy to forget about keeping safe on the roads. Around 36% of girls and 25% of boys say they get distracted crossing the road by using their mobiles.

Traffic is the biggest single cause of accidental death for 12-16 year olds. Six out of ten teenagers reported that they have either been in an accident/near miss or know someone at school who had been. Around 62% of teens admit to being distracted by talking to friends as they cross the road.

Many children starting secondary school have often been regularly driven to primary school. If this is the case, then they will have had little chance to practice using the roads on their own, and may not be fully prepared for a journey to their new school.

When your child transfers to secondary school, make sure they know the safest route to get there. A safe route is one that avoids busy roads or junctions, and includes safer places to cross the road like pelican or zebra crossings, or footbridges and subways. The safest route might not be the quickest, but safety is of the utmost importance.

Learning to be safer pedestrians
The government has set the local authority a challenging target to reduce child deaths and serious injuries by 50%, by the year 2010. One of the ways to meet this challenge is to educate children from a young age about road safety. Many local authorities across the UK have pedestrian training schemes in place, which aim to provide training for children in how to be safe pedestrians.

Kerbcraft is a pedestrian training scheme for children aged 5-7. It is aimed at improving pedestrian skills, and is targeted at schools in areas with high child pedestrian casualties along with high levels of deprivation.

The scheme involves practical roadside training of three basic skills which research has shown to improve children's understanding of road situations:
  • Choosing safer places to cross
  • Crossing safely near parked cars
  • Crossing safely near junctions.
Kerbcraft is not designed to make pupils independent travellers, as children of this age should always be accompanied by an adult.

Many adults will probably remember The Green Cross Code, and in particular, The Green Cross Code Man. Although the “man” is no longer used as a promotion tool for road safety, the message is still the same, and is a key part of Road Safety education. From a young age children need to understand the code, so that they know how to stay safe. The basic Green Cross Code which the Department for Transport promotes is an easy six step guide:

Find the safest place to cross then stop.
If possible cross the road at: subways, footbridges, islands, Zebra, Pelican and traffic light crossings, or where there is a police officer, school crossing patrol or traffic warden. If you can't find any good crossing places like these, choose a place where you can see clearly along the roads in all directions, and where drivers can see you. Never cross on sharp bends or just before the top of a hill.

Stand on the pavement near the kerb.
Give yourself lots of time to have a good look all round. Stand a little way back from the kerb – where you will be away from traffic, but where you can still see if anything is coming. If there is no pavement, stand back from the edge of the road but where you can still see traffic coming.

Look all around for traffic, and listen. Look in every direction. Listen carefully because you can sometimes hear traffic before you can see it.

If traffic is coming, let it pass. Do not cross unless there is a safe gap and you are sure there is plenty of time. If you are not sure, don't cross.


When it's safe, walk straight across the road. Always walk across, never run.

Keep looking and listening for traffic while you cross.


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