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Does Your Child Take Dangerous Risks?

A new study suggests that children may be taking greater risks than many parents think when crossing the street. The results are concerning given that children are among the most frequent victims of pedestrian crashes. In 2012, more than one-fifth (22 percent) of the traffic fatalities in the 14-and-younger age group were pedestrians, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In the most recent study, researchers used a 3D virtual reality system to assess younger (7–9 years) and older (10–12 years) children’s crossing behaviors. Researchers measured how many seconds the virtual cars were from hitting the children when they crossed the street. Next, they put parents in identical circumstances and asked them to identify when their kids would attempt to cross. The goal of the study was to compare parents’ expectations for their children crossing streets with children’s actual crossing behaviors and determine how accurately parents judge their own children’s pedestrian behaviors to be.

Overall, the study found that parents significantly overestimated their children’s pedestrian safety skills. As Reuters reports, the younger children attempted to cross the street when an approaching car was about 2.95 seconds away. Meanwhile, their parents predicted that they would allow for a gap of 4.19 seconds. Older children waited for a 3.03 second gap on average, while their parents believed that they would allows for 3.85 seconds to pass. Overall, six percent of the children were struck by an approaching vehicle.

The study, which was published in the journal Injury Prevention , notes that the children’s decisions in the virtual reality environment may not exactly mirror real-life situations. They also speculate that the suburban subjects may be less savvy than their urban counterparts. Nonetheless, the results are still concerning.

“If parents are not adequately supervising when children cross streets, they may be placing their children at risk of pedestrian injury because they are assuming their children will select larger (safer) inter-vehicle gaps when crossing than children actually do,” the researchers warn.

For tips on child pedestrian safety, we urge parents to check out our post “Could Your Kids Pass a Pedestrian Safety Pop Quiz?”