Why it’s never too early to learn to look left, then right, then left again: Teaching Traffic Safety

Teaching traffic safety means I’m less worried about my kids getting hit by a car

One of my greatest parenting challenges, ahem, sources of anxiety, is keeping my kids safe in a parking lot. No joke, I am outnumbered and traffic safety is important.  If my twins decide to run in opposite directions, there isn’t much I can do to grab both of them and keep them safe from oncoming traffic.

To abate my fear of them getting killed by a car, I have done some hardcore training on, “You must hold my hand in the street” and “We always stay on the sidewalk” positive parenting. If they don’t listen, it’s a time out (T.O.).  There was a good chunk of time when they were walking, but they were not doing good listening, so there were a lot of T.O.’s!

When my 4 year old asked me why we need to hold hands and be careful, I said “I don’t want you to get hit by a car. You could get squashed and it would REALLY hurt.  You would have to go to the hospital.”  I emphasized traffic safety for good reason because in 2014 nearly 5,000 pedestrians were killed by vehicles and over 1,000 of these accidents involved children.  This is over 20% which means more than 1 out of every 5 accidents involved a kid!

I am a public health professional, so safety is something I am concerned about not only as a parent, but as a member of my community. Things like seat belts, helmets, even guardrails are public health initiatives and these small changes have a huge impact on morbidity and mortality.

TRUTH – this blog post was not my original idea. Safety is always a good public service announcement, but the suggestion came from a law firm in Toledo, Ohio, Groth & Associates. What?!  Why does a law firm want a mom blogger to write about car safety?  I was bewildered.  So I just asked them why and the answer surprised me.

Michelle: “Why is a law firm interested in blogging about street safety?”

Law firm, Groth & Associates: “We deal with people who have been injured in car, truck, bicycle, pedestrian accidents on a daily basis. Sometimes we don’t deal with the injured individual but the families of people who have died due to such accidents. This is an extremely heart-breaking experience.

Helping these families and the injured is important to us but working with families who have lost children is heart wrenching. Many of the accidents could have been prevented… Losing a child to death is unimaginably tragic, especially when the child’s death could have been prevented. Our hearts go out to those who have lost a child.

Most of us do not take pedestrian safety seriously enough. We sometimes cross busy streets without looking both ways, and don’t always use the crosswalks when we should. Even when we do obey pedestrian laws, there is a chance an accident could take place, because cars do not always stop for pedestrians like they should.

When it comes to teaching our little ones traffic safety, the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes to mind. This is why we have compiled these simple tips to help you teach your youngsters some of the basic rules of the road.”

WOW. I don’t usually associate a law firm with a heart of gold, but WOW.  They essentially are trying to prevent themselves from getting future clients by educating families on traffic safety!  These lawyers are the OPPOSITE of ambulance chasers and I am seriously impressed.  This touched my heart.  So, here is what you need to know.

How to teach your little ones traffic safety

Traffic signals: explain what each color means. Green means “go,” yellow means “slow down” “caution,” and red means “stop.”   While driving now, my 4 year old loves to tell me when the light is green, red or yellow.  This makes her a little bit of a backseat driver, but it’s OK!

Do you remember the classic game of “Red light, Green light?” Play it at home with your kids (it’ll tire them out for bedtime too).  They’ll really get into it and be sure to throw in a yellow light too!

Take your children on walks in areas with crosswalks and lights indicating when they should cross. Explain and show them how the walking man symbol or hand symbol appears when it is safe to walk in the crosswalks. Don’t forget to remind them even when the symbol tells them it is okay to cross the street; they still need to look both ways before crossing. SERIOUSLY folks, I have had many near misses by cars just not paying attention while I was in the crosswalk. And the truth is, I have also been the driver who wasn’t paying attention either.

How to teach your kids to cross the road and pay attention!

 We need to teach our kiddos how most of the time, they will have to cross the street without a sign or a traffic light to guide them. Teach them how to:

  • Look to their right and then their left and then back to their right again to check for cars
  • Never cross the street where there is a bend in the road
  • Never cross between two cars stopped on the road (I see plenty of adults do this now!)

Taking your kids for walks will provide plenty of opportunities to discuss and practice traffic safety. After you have taught them these simple steps, ask them to practice and say aloud the steps as you approach roads and intersections.

We can’t always see oncoming cars, but kids don’t intuitively understand this. It’s important to teach them to pay attention to familiar sounds of the road, like horns, the sound of an engine roaring, or even tires squealing. How many times have you seen a child dart into the road? It makes my heart stop!  When kids are on or near a road, they need to remain calm and walk. And they should never run out into a road after a ball, a pet, or anything else, no matter what. Teach them to use sidewalks whenever possible, rather than walking alongside the road, as well.

One of my most proud parenting moments was when my 4 year old policed her younger twin sisters, who were making a break for it and running ahead (towards the street)! My oldest said they needed to wait for me to hold their hand before crossing the street.  They came to a screeching halt and waited for me to catch up.  My 4 year old totally understands the importance of crossing the street safely, and she’s sharing this knowledge with her sisters now too.  Parenting score!

WEAR YOUR BIKE HELMET, DARNIT! That means you too, Moms & Dads…. and other bike safety.

Whether they are traveling to and from school or to a friend’s house, the most important rule about bicycles should be they need to wear a helmet. The best way to get my little ones in the habit is to always wear my helmet too. I didn’t grow up wearing a helmet (it wasn’t the law back then, also this really ages me, but it’s true).  It’s the law now and the fact my kids always see me wear my helmet normalizes it for them.  It’s the same as always wearing a seatbelt, it’s just the thing you do when you get ready to ride.  Also, be sure you know how to fit and adjust the helmet accordingly to be snug on your kid’s head.  It makes a difference.  I found infant helmets for $7 each on Amazon, but there are lots of community safety programs offering free helmets.  Do a google search and get your helmets!

bike2 bike1

Kids need to know the importance of riding in the bike lane or on the sidewalk. If neither one is available, tell them to ride to the extreme side of the road, as far away from traffic as possible.

Kids love to tote their smartphones and tablets, but if there is another crucial rule of bicycling for both adults and children alike, it is to refrain from using headphones. In fact, many states have laws against wearing headphones or earphones while riding a bike because we need to be able to hear what is going on around us to avoid any potential accidents.

Finally, children should be trained to wear bright colors or reflective gear while riding their bikes, even if it is not dark yet. At certain points of the day, even sunlight can make it difficult for drivers to see bicyclists. Reflective clothing will help drivers see your child both in bright sunlight and when it is dark.

Baby girl on the left needs a helmet adjustment! It's sitting too far back on her head.
Baby girls need a helmet adjustment! It’s sitting too far back on her heads.

Moving Vehicles

Probably one of the most important traffic safety rules children should learn is to be in a car seat or wear a seatbelt when riding in a car. Tell your children you will not start the car unless everyone in the car is buckled in (I have actually done this with adults who claimed they “didn’t need” to buckle up. Are you kidding me?!). Whether you are pulling into the driveway at home or the parking lot at school, make it clear that the children need to wait until you have completely stopped the car before the exit the car – in a calm manner, of course.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of teaching children traffic safety. Of course, teaching children these traffic safety rules will not guarantee that they will not be injured in an accident, but it can go a long way to prevent it.

Blog written in collaboration with the Lawyers at Groth & Associates.  This blog is NOT sponsored.
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