Driver alert! Children often misjudge traffic

Children do not perceive danger the way adults do; drivers must take care.

With school resuming around the country, drivers prepare for the unexpected in school zones, near bus stops and past crossing guards. But drivers should also be on the alert wherever they drive that children could be present.

Since 2000, 130 school-age pedestrians have died in school transportation-related crashes. Some of the most common types of pedestrian fatal events involve a child being hit or struck:

  • By a vehicle turning or preparing to turn at an intersection
  • In a mid-block collision where a pedestrian enters the driver’s field of view leaving little or no time to react

  • In parking lots or other non-roadway areas
  • While walking/jogging along the side of the road going with the traffic
  • When running through an intersection (as opposed to mid-block)
  • By a backing vehicle

(Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts.)

With nearly half of these (56 fatalities or 43 percent) involving children between the ages of 5 and 7, it is important for drivers to understand some of the unique concerns associated with this age group:

  • A 6-year-old’s eye level is about 36 inches above the ground.
  • Their smaller size makes them difficult for drivers to see, especially if they are standing between parked cars on the side of the road.
  • Young children have two-thirds of the peripheral vision that adults have, and they have difficulty determining the source of a sound.
  • Children are still learning to judge distances and speeds. They cannot judge accurately how fast a car is traveling or how long it will take to cover the distance. They can easily misjudge whether it is safe to cross a street.
  • Children are spontaneous and have trouble stopping an action once started.
  • Children younger than third grade are unlikely to be aware of traffic when playing with friends or riding bikes.
  • Parents can overestimate their children’s ability to cross the street safely. Many elementary school-aged children don’t understand traffic signals and don’t know how to anticipate drivers’ actions. Children under 6 years old rarely understand the true nature of a dangerous situation.
  • Children also tend to overestimate their abilities, thinking that they can run across a street before the flashing light changes or a car approaches.
  • Drivers and child pedestrians each assume (incorrectly) that the other will yield the right-of-way.

(Source, Washington State Department of Transportation’s 53-page School Walk and Bike Routes: A Guide for Planning and Improving Walk and Bike to School Options for Students.)

Drivers can help keep children safe by slowing down wherever you drive, yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, obeying traffic signals and waiting behind stopped school buses.


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