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Child Safety & Visibility While Walking to School

Updated on January 26, 2012

Soon after the start of the new school year, the days begin to shorten and a path that your child walked to school or the school bus in daylight is shrouded in darkness. Particularly nerve-wracking are the roads that lack sidewalks or streetlights. Keep your kiddo safe and visible with these potentially lifesaving tips.

Walker’s Ed for Little Peds

A large part of pedestrian safety is teaching our kids the rules of the road. Like driver’s education for 16-year-olds, our younger ones need walker’s education. Here are some points to be sure to discuss with our littlest pedestrians.

Vehicles: Teach kiddos how to watch for cars, and keep in mind that newer electric cars are so quiet that you may not hear them coming. Watch for large trucks going in reverse, like a diaper delivery van or a garbage truck. Get out of the way when they beep in reverse. They may not see you.

Driveways: Watch out for driveways, as well. How do you know if a car is turned on? The engine revs, you can see exhaust coming from the exhaust pipe, there may be brake lights or headlights on, or you see the driver getting into the car. Don’t walk behind a car if it looks like they are about to pull out of their driveway. Make eye contact with the driver, and only pass if they wave you on and you’re sure they see you. If you are unable to make eye contact with the driver, wait on the sidewalk until they have departed. Also be aware that cars on the roadway may pull into a driveway.

Crossing the street: Review with your child the meaning of pedestrian signals and about how much time you have to cross when the “walk” signal is lit. Talk about the safest places to cross the street, and help children understand at what points drivers may have difficulty seeing them. Teach them to stop, look, listen, think, then walk. Children under the age of 10 should cross the street with an adult or older child. Before the age of 10, kids are less aware of their surroundings and find it more difficult to imagine what drivers can see. They’re also shorter and less visible.

If there are cars parked along the street, it will be more difficult for children to see if cars are coming and it’s safe to cross. It will also be more difficult for drivers to see children. Make sure your kids understand these risks so they can be especially careful when crossing the street near parked cars.

Do we run when crossing the street? No, because you could trip and fall. Wait until there are no cars coming for a long distance so you can walk safely across the street.

Ped Friends

Establish a buddy system with other neighborhood kids. Kids should walk in groups of at least two, and an adult should walk with them if possible.

Talk with kids about how to walk safely as a group. At most points on the sidewalk, two children can safely walk side-by-side, while at other points they should go single file.

Select the Safest Route

Select a route to school that is well lit and has sidewalks. Walk the route to and from school at least a couple of times with your kiddo before you let them go without an adult. Teach your child to void shortcuts on roads that lack sidewalks or streetlights. They should stay away from abandoned buildings or vacant lots. If a sidewalk is not an option, ask your child to walk on the far left side of the road so they are facing oncoming traffic.

Stranger Danger

Never accept a ride from a stranger, even if they say they know your parents or they offer you candy or money.

Get Flashy

Whether your kids are in an urban, suburban, or rural area, reflective gear will improve their visibility and safety. When shopping for jackets for your kids, look for jackets with reflective fabric. Another option is to purchase a bright orange reflective vest like so many roadside workers wear. A vest can be worn over clothes or a jacket any time of year for increased visibility. If your child resists the bright vests, get other parents in the neighborhood to have their children wear the bright vests too. It increases everybody’s safety, and then your child no longer feels like they stick out like a sore thumb.

For little ones, consider shoes with the flashing lights in the soles. There are also flashing light pins that can be attached to backpacks.

If your child rides a bike to school, increase their visibility with an awesome, tall flag off the back. Put reflective disks or flashing lights on their wheels.

Walk for Fitness

Recently there has been a huge push to get more kids walking to school. There are many benefits of walking to school, like creating good exercise habits and building community cohesion, not to mention the benefits to the environment. Let's give our children the skills and supplies for the safest walk to school possible.


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