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Regularly walking short distances with young children (e.g. to the park, to child care or school) provides opportunity to include physical activity and encourages a healthy lifestyle. It is also a great way to teach and develop the road safety skills children need to become safe and independent road users.
Each child develops the skills and experience to be safe around traffic at a different age – usually, this is around nine to 13 years old. It can be hard to tell when your child is ready for independent travel, but there are some important skills (e.g. judging the speed and distance of oncoming traffic) they need to have before they can walk, ride or scoot without an adult.
You play a key role in teaching your children about road safety and should always set a positive example.
Regardless of your child’s age or experience, to cross a road safely they should be taught to:
Whenever possible, use a marked crossing and teach your child to only cross with the green man – do not start crossing if lights have changed to blinking red.
Children should never cross the street from between parked cars – they can’t see oncoming traffic, and a child’s low height means drivers can’t see them.
Generally, children under nine years should always cross the street with an adult. Hold your child’s hand when walking near traffic (e.g. on the street, in car parks and near public transport).
Observe your child’s road-crossing behaviour to determine whether they are ready to be an independent pedestrian. Look at how they go about choosing a safe place to cross, how thoroughly they scan for traffic and how directly they cross the road. Ensure your child:
Regularly walking to school with your child will help them develop the skills they need to begin to travel to school on their own. Walking regularly with your child can also help them become familiar with their local area and learn the safest and most direct route to get home.
Research shows families drive their children to school because they feel it is a safe form of transport, that walking takes too long, and that driving is convenient and fits in best with the family schedule.
Walking to school has many benefits, and you should consider these when planning your school pick-ups and drop offs. Benefits include:
Even if you live far away from the school, walking can be combined with public transport, or a drive only part of the way.
National guidelines suggest primary-school-aged children need 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day (e.g. brisk walking or cycling). Walking to school keeps children active and encourages a healthy lifestyle, which can reduce their risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
When walking along any street, it’s important to be aware of cars reversing or driving in or out of driveways. Teach your child to watch and listen for cars coming in and out of driveways, and keep children close to you even when they are on scooters and bikes.
Commonly, children are involved in driveway incidents at their own homes, with children under six years especially at risk:
Don’t rely on reversing cameras or parking sensors – some cars have a very large ‘blind spot’ in the rearward vision and a child may not be noticed until it is too late to stop.
To reduce the incidence of driveway run overs:
When reversing out of a driveway, make sure that you have checked for children on the footpath before starting your car, and beep your horn before you reach the footpath to warn any pedestrians (and children on scooters or bikes) that you are coming.
When can I let my child walk to and from school on their own?
Every child is different, and the risks involved in different journeys to school also vary. Keep in mind that children under nine years old should always cross the street with an adult. Before deciding if your child is ready to walk to school independently, observe their behaviour around roads and don’t allow them to walk to and from school without an adult until you are confident they are ready.
How can I find out what cars are safest in relation to children and visibility when reversing?
While many newer model cars have rear vision cameras, they differ in effectiveness, and some popular cars even have a very large blind spot. There are a few websites that review the performance of car reversing visibilities, such as IAG’s Reversing Visibility Index.
For older model cars, you can purchase a reversing camera kit. For guidance on what to consider when buying one of these kits, have a look at the Choice Car reversing camera buying guide.
Remember, it is dangerous to rely on reversing cameras to tell you where children are, so always ‘supervise, separate and see’ when reversing out of driveways.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Community Information. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed January 2019.
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