Help your child be a better pedestrian and bicyclist

Children act differently in traffic than adults Children are children, not young adults. It’s important to understand their limitations in understanding traffic.

Specifically, children:

  • Have a narrower field of vision than adults, about 1/3 less.
  • Cannot easily judge a car’s speed and distance.
  • Assume that if they can see a car, its driver must be able to see them. However, children are easily hidden from view by parked cars and other objects.
  • Cannot readily tell the direction a sound is coming from.
  • May be impatient and impulsive.
  • Concentrate on only one thing at a time. This is likely not to be traffic.
  • Have a limited sense of danger.
  • Often mix fantasy with reality.
  • Imitate the (often bad) behavior of others, especially older children and adults.

Ten ways to help children become better pedestrians and cyclists

1. Independence

Give your child only as much independence and responsibility as s/he can handle safely. Throughout childhood, children slowly develop the cognitive, perceptual and sensory skills necessary to be safe in traffic.

2. Uniqueness

Remember that each child is unique. Do not base rules for one child on those for siblings, cousins or neighbors. Children of the same age may require different levels of supervision in traffic.

3. Evaluate

Evaluate your child’s behavior out of traffic. Is s/he impulsive? Does s/he stop to think before acting? Distractable? Can s/he sustain attention on something important? Is s/he a risk-taker? It is likely that your child’s behavior in traffic will resemble behavior out of traffic.

4. Limitations

Consider any limitations your child has and how these might influence his or her behavior in traffic. For example, does your child have vision problems? Hearing impairment? Cognitive or judgment limitations? Physical handicaps?

5. Practice

Give your child practice in traffic. Frequent supervised experiences can help children develop good traffic safety habits.

6. Teach

Teach your child the rules of walking and bicycling safety as you encounter traffic situations. Ask your children to repeat rules back to you.

7. Do not assume

Do not assume your child will follow the rules just because s/he can verbalize them. Let your child lead you in traffic to help you assess how well s/he follows the rules. Set up situations with your child in which you shadow him/her (walk 10-15 feet behind) to allow semi-independence.

8. Take small steps

Grant independence in small steps to see how your child handles it. For example, let your child progress from playing in front of the house to playing on the block, to walking around the block, to crossing one street, etc.

9. Be a Role Model

Always model appropriate traffic safety practices yourself, whether you are walking, bicycling or driving! Children learn from important people around them.

10. Be vigilant

Be a careful driver, watch for children  who may not yet have developed good traffic safety habits. Their safety is in your hands.

Source: City of Madison, Dept. of Transportation, Traffic Engineering Division

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