At Cyclabilites we focus on a couple key pedestrian skills: safe crossings and driveway safety. TO follow we will go through them both and look at how to approach them with your child.
In terms of pedestrian safety, crossing a road presents an especially high-risk activity. When crossing over, the pedestrian comes in direct contact with traffic and must bring together a whole suite of skills to negotiate a safe cross-over. The risks are higher still for children. The road is comparatively much wider to cross, which places extra demands on visual timing skills and other perceptual and motor skills including distance perception, speed estimation and the ability to judge acceleration. Not forgetting of course, that children are easily distracted and often have limited attention. This reality is further complicated for children with additional needs, many of whom struggle with any or all of these skills, placing them at higher risk still.
Crossing the Road
Given these risks, a safe and consistent process to support your child in learning to cross a road safely is vital. At Cyclabilities, we draw on the Stop, Look, Listen, Think, Hold Hands, Wait for GO(SLLTHG) approach. Under this training method children are taught to:
- STOP one step back from the curb or shoulder of the road if there is no footpath.
- LOOK in all directions for approaching traffic (think back to left, right, left).
- LISTEN for traffic approaching from all directions.
- THINK about whether it is safe to cross the road. This brings together the above look and listen. Is the road clear or all traffic has stopped?
- HOLD an adult’s hand.
- WAIT until an adult says it is safe to cross. At this point consistency is really important. We encourage use of the consistent verbal cue “GO” when it is safe to cross the road.
- Continue to HOLD an adult’s hand and walk straight across the road. Keep LOOKING and LISTENING for traffic while crossing.
It is important that you discuss each element of this process with your child as you execute it. Talk them through what you are doing and why you are doing. Make sure your messages are clear, consistent and repeated regularly. If your child struggles with process or integrating steps maybe try working on one element at a time in a safe practice space, perhaps create a ‘road’ at home to support this learning. Try visuals or a visual schedule of steps if you think this may work for your child.
Where to cross a road
The SLLTHG approach should be supported with clear messages about choosing a safe place to cross a road in the first instance. In line with child safety groups, we suggest if possible you should always cross a road at:
- A pedestrian crossing. Teach your children to identify the zebra stripes and understand what they mean. Teach them to only cross when cars have stopped for them.
- Pedestrian traffic lights. Clearly explain how these traffic signals work and what each colour means. Teach children they are only to cross when they can see the ‘green man’ or the green WALK sign, and to never cross when they can see a ‘red man’ or the red DON’T WALK sign.
If there are no crossings available, explain to your child that they need to choose a place where they can see traffic in all directions and where drivers can see them. Discuss the need to:
- Walk straight across the road. Remain focused on getting to the other side. Take the most direct route and don’t jay-walk.
- Keep checking in both directions to ensure traffic conditions haven’t changed.
- Choose a clear space away from parked cars or trees and bushes to ensure they can be seen.
- Don’t cross near a bend or a hill on the road, as both can make it hard to see traffic and for traffic to see them.
In addition to the skills outlined above we also recommend giving your child some grounded experience. We suggest really focusing on your local area, and the spaces your child spends a lot of time. Even if your child is nowhere near ready to cross a road by themselves, starting early gives them plenty of time to understand and naturalize the process.
Safe road crossing needs both focus and concentration. In order to look and listen effectively, it’s important for your child to be free from distractions. I know, this will probably make you unpopular but it is really important to ensure your child’s safety. Some common distractions to eliminate include:
- Headphones and listening to music. Music or audio-books mask traffic noise and provide something else for the child to focus on. This is likely to impair their judgement.
- Phones and other devices. We know that looking at phones (whether it be Facebook, Texting, You-Tube, Instagram) presents a significant distraction. It inhibits spatial awareness so that users may not see what is in front of them, let alone to the left or right. Using devices around roads will significantly compromise your child’s ability to make decisions about their safety.
- Clothing choices will also influence your child’s safety crossing roads. Dressing children in bright colours will ensure they are able to be seen more clearly by road users, particularly in low light.
On average, more than five children are killed and 47 seriously injured in driveways each year across Australia (Transport for New South Wales). It seems strange that this environment, where people are driving so slowly, could pose such a risk to our kids right?
Driveways are risky for a couple of reasons. First, vehicles are most often reversing which limits visibility. Second, children (especially little ones) are often not tall enough to be visible to the driver. These factors are often compounded because road safety education focuses so much on roads and car parks that children and drivers are often not as cautious or watchful around in this setting.
Not forgetting of course that children are easily distracted and often struggle with situational awareness, judging speed and distance, and predicting the directionality of sound. Of course, as developmentally typical children grow older they tend to attain some of these skills. Children with additional needs for often take much longer, and may never process environmental input in the same ways as their developmentally typical peers. This makes them a particular risk in these environments.
The NSW Centre for Road Safety outlines three steps to help keep your children (developmentally typical or otherwise) safe in driveways: Supervise, separate and see (Transport for New South Wales).
Quite simply, supervise your kids in the driveway, particularly when there are moving vehicles. According to Choice, in 85% of driveway run-overs “the driver doesn’t even know that the child is near the vehicle – they’re under the impression the child is being looked after elsewhere” (Choice).
When children are around driveways with moving vehicles they should be actively supervised by an adult who is holding their hand. If you’re moving a vehicle clearly hand over supervision responsibility to another adult. If you’re the only adult around and need to move the car, put the kids in the car and strap them in first.
Separate the spaces your children play in from driveways and parking garages. Treat the driveway like a road or car park. Don’t let your children use the driveway as a play area. Ever. If possible physically separate play spaces from garages and driveways. This might involve using fences, high handles on garage doors and self-closing doors or gates. For a child with additional needs this may be as simple as drawing a chalk ‘do not cross line’. Explain this separation to your children so they also start to think of the driveway as a potentially unsafe place.
This comes down to you, as the driver, ensuring the driveway is clear and safe before moving a vehicle. Children are fast. Their behavior can be unpredictable and they are often oblivious to the potential risks around them, particularly children with additional needs. It’s essential that we, as drivers, are constantly aware of children when reversing or moving vehicles.
This should involve more than just looking in your mirrors. All vehicles have blind spots, and while reversing sensors and cameras can reduce the risk, it can be very difficult to notice a small child until it is too late. It is important not to become complacent. Before entering the vehicle, make sure there are no children behind the car and check for children and other pedestrians nearby. Make sure there is nothing obstructing a clear vision through mirrors and the rear window before reversing. Always reverse very slowly and look both ways so all areas of potential danger are visible.
Skills to practice
To support the development of pedestrian safety skills set up some activities and practice with your child. Think about each of the following.
- Hold hands with your child whilst walking on the footpath, or upon existing the car.
- Talk traffic all the time. Talk about your surroundings. Point out roads, curbs, driveways, pedestrian crossings.
- Practicing walking, stopping, waiting, listening and thinking.
- Practice selecting the best place to cross a road.
- Practicing getting out of the car on the curb side.
Practice using traffic lights. Work on identifying what the different colours mean.