Forget the house, the car or the flash TV. Our kids are our most precious asset and deserve special care and attention, especially when they’re most vulnerable – on and around the roads.
As adults, we are the biggest influencers of kids’ behaviour in the community. If kids see us running across the road in front of traffic or cycling without a helmet, they will see that as OK.
If they walk to school, walk with them several times so you can identify the hazards and show them what to do. Show them why using a pedestrian crossing is important, and the dangers of crossing the road.
We also need to be alert to the special way kids react to situations. As drivers, we should take care when we see kids, or where they’re likely to be (around schools, playgrounds and school buses). Slow down and be extra vigilant. By their very nature, kids are impulsive and bad judges of distance and speed, so even if they see you, they might still run onto the road.
Every year about 40 children die as pedestrians and about 100 are seriously injured – mostly going to or from school, or near their homes. Child pedestrian injuries account for about a third of all traffic-related child deaths.
So what can we do to keep our kids safe on the road?
At a basic level, we can:
- Teach kids how to use pedestrian crossings and controlled intersections safely.
- Use a “walking school bus” or set one up if there isn’t one already (see below).
- Use a school travel plan.
- Keep your vehicle speed around kids very slow – around school buses the law says you must travel at only 20km/h (in both directions).
Walking school buses
A great innovation that is gaining support throughout the country is what’s known as “walking school buses”, initiated in New Zealand by the organisation Safekids NZ.
It’s essentially a group of parents who walk with up to eight primary school children to ensure they get safely to and from school. The kids are dropped off and picked up at stops on a designated route by their parents. The route is usually about a kilometre long and is assessed for suitability by a traffic engineer.
- Safekids says the key benefits of the walking school buses are:
- Reducing the known risk factors for child pedestrian injury.
- Reducing car congestion around schools (an average of 21 fewer cars traveling to school per route).
- Greater awareness by everyone in the community on the role they play in child pedestrian safety.
Nearly 500 children a year are hospitalised after cycle accidents and on average two children die each year (most of them boys). Boys aged 10-14 years are at greatest risk of fatal injury.
The main messages for child cyclists
- Be smart – plan safe cycle routes with an adult, the best riders are skilled riders.
- Be safe – no helmet no bike.
- Be seen – wear bright colours, and use reflective gear such as high-visibility vests and backpack covers to give you a better chance of other road users seeing you.
New Zealand is somewhat unique in having long driveways on properties, especially in the smaller rural towns. This is because the “quarter-acre section” traditionally had the garage at the back of the section.
The danger of the long driveway is the distance cars often have to travel in reverse, which limits drivers’ ability to see small children. Vision from a driver’s seat can be restricted for up to 10 metres from the back of the car.
Every two weeks a child is hospitalised with serious injuries received from a vehicle driving on a private driveway in New Zealand. Another five kids are killed annually, on average. Most injuries are to toddlers about two years old and are often severe. The driver is usually a close family member, resulting in devastating effects on families.
A recent Safekids campaign has raised awareness throughout the country of how to be more safety conscious on driveways. The message is that you should know where the kids are before you get in the car, because if an accident happens, there’s no going back.
Check, supervise and separate
- Check for children before driving off.
- Supervise children around vehicles – always.
- Separate play areas from driveways.
Also have someone watch around your vehicle as you leave to ensure no kids are nearby, and get visitors to park on the road.
A recent law change means all children aged up to 7 must be in an appropriate child restraint (such as a booster seat) in a vehicle, and those aged between 7-8 must use one if it’s available. The change aims to reduce the injury and fatality rate for young children by ensuring they’re not restrained in an adult seat belt. In any event, it’s recommended that kids use a child restraint or booster seat at least until they’re 148cm tall.
One of the leading causes of injury involves children as passengers in vehicles. About 15 children a year die and about 300 end up in hospital. Booster seats for pre-school and school-aged kids have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death by up to 59 percent.
Keep the kids safe by:
- Always using the correct child restraint and booster seat for your child’s height and age.
- Following the manufacturers’ instructions for your child restraint.
- Making sure your child restraint or booster seat correctly fits your vehicle.
- Getting help installing your child restraint or booster. Contact an NZTA-certified child restraint technician for support and to get help to correctly install a child restraint.
- Putting kids in the back seat where it’s safest.
Source, and for further information: Safekids New Zealand – www.safekids.org.nz