Every year, thousands of young people die in auto accidents, and hundreds of thousands sustain injuries. Even one avoidable child death is too many, but statistics show the problem is far more widespread than that. On average, more than a dozen children under 12 die every week in a crash – and that’s excluding teenagers, who make up the single most at-risk group for car accidents.
May is Youth Traffic Safety Month, the perfect time to remind your kids – regardless of how old they are – of the essential safety information that could help them avoid or stay safe in an accident.
Keep Kids Safe on Foot
When your children were first old enough to walk – most likely, with you holding their hands – you taught them the most basic requirement for pedestrian safety: look both ways before you cross the street.
Yet pedestrian injuries remain a leading cause of injury-related death among young people, and teenagers – who should have years of experience looking both ways – have the highest risk of getting hurt.
Use this monthly observance to talk to your kids about making safe moves on foot. Remind them to:
- Walk on sidewalks and paths, not the street, whenever possible. If they must walk on the street, they should stay on the shoulder and walk facing traffic, not away from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Always cross at intersections and street corners instead of jaywalking. Whenever possible, use crosswalks to cross the street.
- Be mindful of traffic signals when crossing the street. Never attempt to cross an intersection in front of traffic that has a green signal.
- Always put down cell phones, handheld games, and other devices before looking both ways – that way, their full attention is on the road, not divided between the road and the screen. Also, pedestrians of any age should always double-check the road with an extra look left (in other words, look left, right, and left again) before stepping off the sidewalk and onto the roadway.
- If there are cars present, always make eye contact with the drivers, even if they are in the crosswalk. A driver can’t stop for or avoid a pedestrian he or she doesn’t see, even if the driver is legally supposed to stop.
- When walking at night, make yourself visibly by wearing bright colors or reflective material, or carrying a flashlight.
Certain factors increase your child’s risk of being hurt in a pedestrian car accident, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Teach your kids to use special care in urban locations and at nighttime, and to avoid crossing at non-intersections and using alcohol. Children under 10, in particular, have difficulty judging the speed and distance of moving cars. Walking with them can help them stay safe.
Protect Child Passengers
Small children need additional protection in case of an accident, but they also grow throughout their childhood. The result, the CDC reported, is that children will use a series of protective car seats over their first dozen or so years of life:
- From birth through about age two – depending on how quickly the child meets height and weight requirements – that means a rear-facing car seat.
- The next step, typically from age two to five, is the forward-facing car seat.
- Booster seats are the car seats of choice from age five until the child reaches the appropriate height to wear a regular seat belt – usually 57 inches, which may take until age 12 or even longer.
- Once the child is tall enough to use a seat belt without the need for a booster seat, a car seat is no longer necessary. However, children 12 and under should always sit in the back seat, not the front seat, of the vehicle. At this age, children are still small enough that an airbag deployment in case of an accident could do more harm than good – and might even be lethal.
Many parents find that using car seats can be more complicated than it sounds. When, specifically, should they transition their child to a new seat? How do they install it correctly? As challenging as it is to manage the car seat installation and progression, it’s essential. As many as one-third of all children killed car crashes aren’t buckled up in the right safety seat, according to the CDC.
Sometimes the quality and safe use of a car seat can mean the difference between your child walking away from an accident unscathed, and not walking ever again.
Train Teen Drivers to Make Safety a Priority
Teenagers have a disproportionately high rate of collisions in general and deadly crashes in particular, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported – even though they drive less frequently than almost every other age group. In particular, teens ages 16 and 17 have double the rate of fatal crashes that 18- and 19-year-olds, with just a couple more years of driving experience, have.
You may feel helpless the first time your teen gets behind the wheel alone, but you can help a new driver make good decisions just by talking about some basic safety practices. Remind the teen driver in your life to:
- Never drive distracted. Cell phones, music controls, and even infotainment technology within the car itself can be distracting. Remind young drivers that no matter what, their primary focus should always be on the road in front of them. Anything else can wait.
- Always wear a seat belt. As many as 55 percent of teens killed in car crashes weren’t wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision.
- Never drive impaired. No amount of alcohol is legal for drivers under the age of 21. Driving while drowsy or under the influence of any other substance – even some seemingly harmless over-the-counter medications – can prove dangerous.
- Drive defensively. All drivers should keep their eyes on the road, but scan their mirrors as well as what’s in front of them to make sure they’re fully aware of their surroundings. Defensive driving includes watching your speed and always maintaining a safe following distance. In school zones, urban centers, and residential areas, look out for pedestrians to avoid causing a tragedy.
Parents may have more control over their teen’s driving behavior than they realize. A recent survey by the National Safety Council found that 91 percent of parents who drive distractedly do so in front of their teens – setting a potentially dangerous example.
Every single day, children die in car accidents, whether as pedestrians, passengers, or teen drivers. Any step you can take to remind your kids of important safety information is a step in the right direction – toward fewer crashes, fewer injuries, and fewer unnecessary deaths.