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What Age Can Your Child Safely Cross the Street Unaccompanied?

1:45

Do you remember what age you were when you were finally allowed to cross the street by yourself? Me neither. A new study finds that crossing a busy street requires calculations that are typically too complex for kids under the age of 14 to master.

In simulated experiments, University of Iowa researchers found children lack the perceptual judgment and physical skills needed to consistently get across safely.

"Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults when crossing the street," said study corresponding author Jodie Plumert, a professor of psychological and brain sciences.

"Our study shows that's not necessarily the case on busy roads where traffic doesn't stop," Plumert said in a university news release.

There are records that show how dangerous crossing a busy street can be for young ones.  In 2014, there were 8,000 injuries and 207 deaths involving motor vehicles and pedestrians aged 14 and younger in the United States, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

In this study, researchers used a realistic simulated setting to assess the ability of children ages 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 years to cross one lane of a busy road.

The younger children consistently had difficulty crossing the street safely, with accident rates as high as 8 percent among 6-year-olds. Even 10-year-olds were struck 5 percent of the time, and 12-year-olds, 2 percent of the time, the findings showed. 

Only the 14-year-olds consistently crossed the street safely, according to the study authors.

Children have difficulty judging how faraway cars are from them as they look down the street- as well as how fast the car is moving.  The younger the child, the less his or her motor skills are developed, making a misjudgment more likely and a stumble or fall more of a possibility. Excitement or eagerness to get to the other side of the street can also affect their judgment.

"They get the pressure of not wanting to wait combined with these less-mature abilities," Plumert said. "And that's what makes it a risky situation."

Teach your children to be patient and encourage them to choose traffic gaps that are even larger than the gaps adults would choose for themselves, the researchers suggested.

Safekids.org offers these tips for teaching your child how to safely cross the road:

  1. Teach kids at an early age to look left, right and left again before crossing the street. Then remind them to continue looking until safely across.
  2. Teach kids to put phones, headphones and devices down when crossing the street. It is particularly important to reinforce this message with teenagers.
  3. It’s always best to walk on sidewalks or paths and cross at street corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible. 
  4. Make sure children under 14 cross the street with an adult.
  5. Be a good role model. Set a good example by putting your phone, headphones and devices down when walking around cars.

By age 12, kids are getting the hang of checking and judging distance and speeds – but their maturity level and eagerness to get to the other side still needs working on.

Every child is different and these results indicate an average. 

The study results were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Story source: Robert Preidt, https://consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/child-safety-news-587/at-what-age-can-kids-safely-cross-the-street-721785.html

https://www.safekids.org/walkingsafelytips

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