Tuesday, August 16 is the first day of school for Greenville County Schools. On this day and many more to follow, we expect to see many kids walking to school. Walking to school is beneficial because it gives children the opportunity to be active and lowers their risk of obesity. It also leads to greater self-reliability, better pedestrian skills, more social interaction, less reliance on automobiles and less traffic.
However, there are some unsafe habits that can increase a child’s risk of injury. After a long summer off, it’s important to remind them of some simple safety tips to use while walking to school:
- Walk, Don’t Run – Do not run across a street even if cars aren’t coming, or if the stoplight turns red or the crosswalk sign is blinking “Don’t Walk” while you are in the middle of the street. Running across a street is a very unsafe practice. Children learn very quickly to follow safe habits. Set a good example by following the rules yourself. Show your child how to properly follow the signals, crosswalks and other safety rules.
- Look Left, Look Right and Left Again – Kids are easily distracted. Remind them to use traffic signals and crosswalks and to cross at the corner. Teach them to look left, right and left again before crossing the street every time. Teach them to watch for cars that are backing out of driveways. Have them make eye contact with drivers when they are crossing the street. Remind them to continue looking while crossing by keeping their heads up and looking around until safely across. Remind your child that just because you can see the driver, the driver may not be able to see you.
- Be Alert – Teach kids to put their phone, headphones and devices down when crossing the street. It is particularly important to reinforce this message with teenagers.
- Hold Hands – Kids may not want to hold hands, but if they are tiny or young make sure they hold your hand securely while crossing a street or in a parking lot where they can be shorter than the bumper or hood of a car. Every child is different, but developmentally most kids are unable to judge the speed and distance of oncoming cars until age 10.
- Pick the Best Route – Find the safest route to school. A route that has the fewest street crossings is ideal. It is always best to walk on sidewalks or paths and cross at street corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible.
- Bus Rules – Make sure children know how to walk around a school bus. They should walk 10 feet in front of a school bus and never behind it.
- Don’t Go in the Street – Teach your child they should never run in a street for a ball, a pet or anything else. Teach them to get an adult instead.
Pedestrian injury is the second leading cause of injury-related death in children ages two to nine. In fact, more toddlers are killed in pedestrian accidents each year, and the majority of those deaths occur when a toddler is struck by a car backing out of a driveway. Additionally, about half of all child pedestrian deaths occur between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Make time to teach your child how to be a good pedestrian, and remember that we’re all pedestrians no matter our age. Good decisions make a big difference.
Nydia Lissette Arce, MPH, is a special projects coordinator with Safe Kids Upstate.