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Road and Traffic Safety for Kids

Child Safety Basics


Updated December 07, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Road and Traffic Accidents and Tragedies

Road and traffic accidents are a leading cause of childhood injuries and death. In 2010, the last year for which statistics are available, at least 3,718 children died in transportation-related accidents.

Not surprisingly, the highest rates of deaths from road and traffic accidents occur among toddlers and teenagers. Traffic safety awareness is important for kids of all ages. Whether they involve teens who are behind the wheel or toddlers who might get backed over by an SUV in the driveway, these headline-making tragedies are good examples of how easily accidents can happen:

  • A 17-year-old in Raymore, Missouri died on the way to school when he lost control of his car and slammed into a tree. He was not wearing a seat belt.
  • A 14-month-old in Queens, New York was injured and left in serious condition after she flew into the front dashboard of a minivan during an accident. She was not in a carseat.
  • A 3-year-old in Lubbock, Texas died after being run over by the driver of a pickup truck who was backing out of a parking lot.
  • A 16-year-old in Catalina Foothills, Arizona was seriously injured and left in critical condition after falling out of the bed of a moving pickup truck.
  • A 14-month-old in Ripley County, Ohio died after being hit by a pickup truck driven by a teen who was sending a text message via phone. The toddler had been playing in the yard with his siblings just before wandering into the roadway.

These stories are also important reminders of how crucial it is to teach your kids about road and traffic dangers to keep them safe.

Road and Traffic Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Parents Central program nicely summarizes road and traffic safety.It is important to realize that safety means teaching your kids to be careful while they are walking and biking, or in and around a car too.

Road and traffic accidents are a leading cause of death for kids, but we can all take steps to help protect them from these all too common tragedies.

Car Safety

Are your kids safe in the car?

You probably think that they're secure if you have them in a car seat or are using seat belts, but keep in mind that there is more to car safety than car seats.

For one thing, you have to choose the right car seat or booster seat depending on your child's age, weight, and height, and then you are going to have to install and use it correctly. If your kids aren't in the right car seat or if you move them to a booster before they are ready, then your kids aren't going to be as safe as they could be in the car.

Other tips:

  • Avoid seat belt entanglement by buckling unused seat belts and not leaving kids unsupervised in the car.
  • Install a backup camera or backup sensor system and teach kids to get away from a car that has the engine on or that is starting to move to help avoid backover tragedies.
  • Lock your car and secure your keys so that kids can't get inside while playing, which can sometimes result in them getting trapped in the trunk.
  • Don't let kids play near a driveway or alleyway.
  • Avoid distracted driving. Don't use a phone to talk, read or text while driving.
  • Look for the basic car safety features
  • when you buy a car, including electronic stability control, adjustable rear shoulder seat belts, a rear center lap and shoulder seat belt, anti-entrapment power windows, etc., and newer car safety innovations, such as inflatable seat belts, integrated booster seats, and systems that start to brake if a crash is unavoidable.

If your teen is learning to drive, you should also review your state's graduated driver licensing laws and set your own ground rules for driving.

Walking to School

Getting kids to walk to school is something that we should all encourage, as long as they can do it safely. Unfortunately, many kids live in neighborhoods with poor walkability ratings, which means they might not have access to sidewalks or crosswalks, to low-traffic routes or they may live too far from school.

These obstacles can be addressed, so that our communities can become more walkable and we can all exercise more.

In addition to working with your community to make your neighborhood pedestrian-friendly, you can help teach your kids to walk safely, and take care to see that they are:

  • Supervised while walking until they are at least 10 years old, as the AAP states that "young children have developmental limitations that prevent them from being safe pedestrians."
  • Always walk facing traffic, on the sidewalk (if there is one).
  • Only cross streets on corners or in crosswalks, as that is where drivers expect you to be crossing the street and likely explains why most accidents happen in the middle of the block. Even in a crosswalk, teach your kids to be aware of traffic and follow all signs and signals. Just because drivers are supposed to give pedestrians the right of way in a crosswalk doesn't mean that they might not be distracted, especially if they are on a cell phone, and might hit your child.
  • Stop at the curb before crossing the street and then look left, then right, and then left again before stepping into the street and then continue looking for traffic until you get to the other side. If a car is coming, teach your kids to wait until it passes and then repeat the look left, right, left process again.
  • Always walk carefully when crossing the street.
  • Look for traffic in driveways and look for drivers in parked cars, which can be a tip off that the car might move soon.
  • Wear bright-colored clothes, reflective gear, or carry a flashlight at night or early in the morning to ensure that they can be seen.
  • Walk with a friend or join a Walking School Bus.
  • Don't walk or jog wearing headphones, using the phone, or playing hand-held video games.

Of course, these walking to school safety tips can also keep your kids safe when they are walking to the park, to a friend's home, or anywhere else.

Biking Safety

Like walking, biking is great exercise.

And while walking and biking share some safety basics, there are some significant differences.

For example, while you want to make sure your kids don't wear headphones, do wear bright-colored clothing at night, and look left, right, and left again when crossing at a crossing the street whether they are walking or biking, safe bikers should:

  • Wear a well-fitting helmet
  • Ride with traffic, not facing traffic like they would if they were walking
  • Avoid riding in the street until they are at least 10 years old
  • Use appropriate hand signals when turning

Most importantly, set a good example by following all of these safety tips yourself. We can't expect our kids to wear a helmet, cross at the corner, or stay off the cell phone while driving unless we do these things as well.


American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Pedestrian Safety. Pediatrics August 2009; 124:2 802-812.

CDC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System. 2010, United States Transport Deaths and Rates per 100,000. All Races, Both Sexes, Ages 0 to 18. Accessed November 2012.

NHTSA. Safe Walking Tips For Youth. Accessed November 2012.

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