Take the Test: Are Your Kids Safe to Walk Solo in Your Community
Are your child(ren) at the age where you’re considering allowing them to walk to school or around your nearby community on their own? Here are some great ways to test the walkability of your school route or neighborhood. While you physically walk the route with your child(ren), take our four safety tests below…
1. Sidewalks & Crossings
Are there sidewalks on every road that will need to be taken to arrive at the destination? What about safe street crossings? In urban areas, the highest percentage of pedestrian accidents occur outside of intersections (insert conversation with your child about only crossing streets at crosswalks and intersections with signals). However, studies show that more than one in five pedestrian deaths do occur at intersections. Are crossings along your route well marked and safe?
Take the Test: Take your dog for a walk (or borrow a friend’s dog if you don’t have one) and pay attention to how comfortable you feel as traffic passes by. Do you find yourself shortening the leash to keep it away from traffic? If so, chances are the sidewalk is too close to the street or the street is too busy for young children to walk on their own.
2. Speed Limits & Traffic Calming
The speed of surrounding traffic is a major factor in determining whether your streets are walkable. A few miles per hour can very literally make the difference between life and death in a pedestrian accident.
Take the Test: This one is simple… Walk or bike the route and listen closely to your instincts. Take a notebook and draw a line down the middle of a page. On one side, jot down the things that make you feel safe while walking the route. On the other side, jot down the things that make you nervous while walking the route. Be sure to make note of where each occurs on the route.
Do you feel nervous as traffic whizzes by? Pay attention not only to the posted speed limits but also whether there are measures in place to control excessive speeding. How frequently do you see police cars patrolling your area? Do street(s) have radar speed signs to regain the attention of speeding or distracted drivers? Are there other traffic calming measures in place that require drivers to slow down while pedestrians are near?
When you get home, review your list. If there is more than one factor that makes you nervous every half-mile you walk, your route is probably not ideal for pedestrians. This list can help you identify sections where you might adjust the route.
The distance from point A to point B is an important safety factor. Extended time spent along any roadway, especially for younger children, can increase the potential dangers when venturing out alone.
If your child walks somewhere and is expected to be home in 10 minutes, you’ll know much sooner if something is wrong than if your child is expected to be home in an hour. If they are walking for a long time and something does go wrong like getting lost, the potential places they could be will be multiplied and the search radius will be much larger.
While we can’t recommend a specific distance that your child should be able to walk on their own, keep in mind that walking one mile in a high-traffic area could take much longer than walking one mile in a low-traffic area.
Take the Test: There is a popular test that has been said to be a great indicator for determining if a destination is too far for a child to walk on his/her own… The popsicle test! It works like this 1) walk to a store near the destination you’re considering and purchase a popsicle; 2) fight the temptation to eat the refreshing treat and start your walk back home; 3) if the popsicle melts before you arrive back home then the distance is too far for children–at least in younger grades– to walk.
4. Visibility & Cell Signal
Visibility is important for your child(ren) to see where they’re going and for drivers to spot them. Many factors in a road can impact visibility including hills, curves and various obstacles like trees and signs. In addition, some routes may offer great visibility during the day but have inadequate street lights for when the sun is low.
These days, digital visibility is also a factor. Today cell phones are in the hands of even young kids and can be a great comfort. Not only will you know they can call in an emergency, but you can use a tracking app like “Find My Friends” or “Life 360” to monitor where they are along their route.
Take the Test: Walk the route in question in the evening or early morning, while the sun is low while taking this three-part test.
Part 1: How is the lighting? If you come across any areas that are not well lit, start a timer and continue walking until you reach a well-lit area. How long did it take you to get there? If it takes more than a minute, don’t allow your child to walk the route within 45 minutes of sunrise or sunset.
Part 2: Make a mental note of every single street crossing. Are crossings on straightaways? Or, are any at curves or on hills where a car could be out of sight until the last second? If there is a single instance along the route where your child would need to cross but have no way to see oncoming cars, then eliminate that path. Often there are alternate spots to plan crossings, even if it makes the route a little longer.
Part 3: Lastly, frequently check your cell phone while testing the route. Is there is a strong cell signal with your mobile carrier the entire way? Rule out the route if there is very poor or no cell signal for more than one minute or at any crossings. In this case, research whether other cell phone carriers have a better signal or test if another route has a better cell signal.
Talk it out…
If you come to the conclusion that your child(ren) are old enough to walk around town on their own, make sure to talk to them about traffic safety before sending them out for their first solo trip. A few topics include
1) using the crosswalk and watching for vehicles making left-hand turns at intersections/crosswalks–even if the walk sign is on.
2) watching for cars entering or exiting driveways or alleys
4) never talking to or accepting rides from strangers
5) dangers of distracted walking, an increasing cause of pedestrian accidents. Remind them to not listen to music or use their cell phone –except when absolutely needed– and to move to a safe location away from traffic before looking at their screen.