Posted On August 16, 2021 Personal Injury
When their children are young, parents repeat that familiar refrain: look both ways before crossing the street. Children learn that green means go and red means stop before they learn to tie their own shoes. By the time kids are in their teens, parents often begin thinking more about educating their children on driving safety than walking safety.
Yet pedestrian deaths remain far more common among tweens and teens than younger children. Kids don’t age out of pedestrian safety education just because they’re not little anymore. If your middle school and high school kids will be walking to school this year, here’s what you need to know about teens and pedestrian accidents.
In 2019, the most recent year for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has data available, 103 10- to 15-year-olds were killed in pedestrian accidents, as were 218 16- to 20-year-olds. In comparison, 46 deaths of children ages 5 to 9 and 57 deaths of kids under age 5 were reported during that year.
Until 2013, pedestrian deaths among kids and teens were, thankfully, on the decline. Then, after almost 20 years of this encouraging trend, the rate of deadly pedestrian accidents among 12- to 19-year-olds climbed 13 percent in just two years to reach 284 deaths in 2015, nonprofit organization Safe Kids Worldwide reported. This increase prompted the organization to take a closer look at the factors behind teen pedestrian deaths.
A major factor in pedestrian accidents involving teens is distraction—and distracted drivers aren’t the only problem. Distracted walkers can pose a hazard to themselves and others by wandering into the road and otherwise failing to be aware of their surroundings.
There’s no doubt that texting while driving is dangerous, but texting while walking can be hazardous, too. In fact, research has shown that the majority of people can’t text and walk in a straight line at the same time, according to TODAY, and texting while walking led participants in an experiment to cross streets without looking up and risk tripping over or running into objects.
Many teens—many people in general—don’t realize the extent of distraction that occurs when they’re texting or otherwise using a mobile phone while walking. Parents can help prevent distraction-related pedestrian accidents by raising this topic with their teenage children.
Consider recreating these distracted walking experiments within your own family to really drive home the amount of distraction that comes with texting while walking. In a safe place away from real traffic, such as your backyard, the park, or a room with enough open space, set up a path for the texter to follow. Remove any obstacles that would pose a real danger, but mark the floor or ground to represent potential obstacles. Don’t be surprised if the texter walks right into one of these obstacles or is unable to follow a straight route.
The other big factor that contributes to teen pedestrian accidents is unsafe street-crossing behaviors. Safe Kids Worldwide’s observational study found that 80 percent of middle school and high school students observed some form of unsafe street-crossing behavior, such as crossing the street:
When you combine distraction and unsafe street-crossing behaviors on the part of teens with school zones that don’t do enough to protect them and drivers who make unpredictable moves during dropoff and pickup times, it becomes easy to see why teen pedestrian accidents happen.
Perhaps because parents do focus on these basic safety rules with younger children, they are less likely to remind teens of these precautions and the risks of failing to take them. The research shows that skipping these reminders and conversations could be a mistake, since so many teens clearly aren’t following safety precautions while walking.
Consider talking to your teen about the statistics, the news stories, and the ways to prevent pedestrian accidents by only engaging in safe street-crossing behaviors. Think about whether you’re setting the right example for your child in your own behavior as a pedestrian. If not, you can even work that reality into your conversation, acknowledging that even adults aren’t perfect and may sometimes convince themselves that it’s okay to disregard safe walking behaviors for the sake of convenience or because they’re in a rush. Then talk about the reality of the risks.
Teens have a tendency to think they’re invincible, but that’s not true, as hundreds of families each year find out firsthand. Make it a family goal to start taking safe street-crossing practices more seriously and be more mindful of safety.