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24 April 2017

At what age can kids safely cross the street?

In simulated experiments, consistently getting across a busy road was tough for children younger than 14.

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Pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users, and most pedestrians are children. Nearly one quarter of recorded deaths over the Easter weekend were pedestrians, News24 reported.

In simulated experiments, University of Iowa researchers found that especially children lack the perceptual judgment and physical skills needed to consistently get across safely.

Realistic simulated setting

Crossing a busy street requires calculations too complex for kids younger than 14, a new study finds.

The study results were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

"Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults when crossing the street," said study corresponding author Jodie Plumert, a professor of psychological and brain sciences.

"Our study shows that's not necessarily the case on busy roads where traffic doesn't stop," Plumert said in a university news release.

In 2014, there were 8 000 injuries and 207 deaths involving motor vehicles and pedestrians aged 14 and younger in the United States, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. There are currently no available statistics in South Africa.

For this new study, researchers used a realistic simulated setting to assess the ability of children ages 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 years to cross one lane of a busy road.

Identifying gaps in traffic

The younger children consistently had difficulty crossing the street safely, with accident rates as high as 8% among 6-year-olds. Even 10-year-olds were struck 5% of the time, and 12-year-olds, 2% of the time, the findings showed.

Only the 14-year-olds consistently crossed the street safely, according to the study authors.

Parents need to recognise that young children may have difficulty identifying gaps in traffic that are large enough to cross safely. Children also may not yet have the fine motor skills to step into the street the moment a car has passed, the researchers said.

"They get the pressure of not wanting to wait combined with these less-mature abilities," Plumert said. "And that's what makes it a risky situation."

And, if you're a child, eagerness can override reason when judging the best moment to cross a busy street.

How can you make child road safety better?

  • Teach your children to be patient and encourage them to choose traffic gaps that are even larger than the gaps adults would choose for themselves.
  • City planners should pinpoint places where children are likely to cross streets and make sure those intersections have a pedestrian-crossing aid.
  • If there are places where kids are highly likely to cross the road (because it's the most efficient route to school, for example) and traffic doesn't stop there, it would be wise to have crosswalks.

Read more:

Road safety tips for kids

Teach your child road safety

Winter road safety tips

 
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