Back to school: Reading, writing and walking? Teens at greatest risk for pedestrian injuries

TOPEKA – School supplies are bought and backpacks are ready. Parents have planned how their kids will get to school. But one thing parents might not think to do is talk to their children about walking there safely, particularly their teenagers. Here’s why it’s important: teenagers are now the most at-risk youth for pedestrian injuries, according to a study by Safe Kids Worldwide and FedEx.

The report “Walking Safely, A Report to the Nation”, released in 2012, revealed that while walking safety has improved overall for children since 1995, there are still a staggering number of children hit by cars. More than 61 children are injured every day severely enough to seek medical attention. More than 500 children are killed every year in the U.S.

Interestingly, the most at-risk age group has shifted since 1995 when 5-9-year-olds sustained the most injuries, to today when teens are at greatest risk. The death rate among older teens is now twice that of younger children. In the last five years, injuries among 16-19 year olds increased 25 percent over the previous five years. Today, 14-19 year olds account for half of all child pedestrian injuries.

“The work we have been doing with younger kids has clearly been effective,” said Cherie Sage, Safe Kids Kansas. “But this new trend impacting our teenagers is disturbing.”

One suspected cause of this disturbing trend is distraction, since the increase in teen injuries seems to correlate with the prevalence of cell phone use, both among walkers and drivers. A recent study issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), also finds an alarming trend in injury risk involving distracted walkers.

“With approximately 75 percent of 12-17 year-olds owning cell phones, it’s important to talk to your children about putting phones away and paying attention when walking,” said Sage.

Safe Walking Tips

Safe Kids Kansas recommends these safety guidelines:

  • Children should cross the street with an adult until age 10.
  • Choose the safest route and walk it with children. Look for the most direct route with the fewest street crossings. Children should take the same route every day and avoid shortcuts.
  • Teach children to recognize and obey all traffic signals and markings.
  • Make sure children look in all directions before crossing the street. If a vehicle is approaching, wave and make eye contact with the driver before crossing the street.
  • Teach children to cross the street at a corner or crosswalk, never from between parked cars or from behind bushes or shrubs.
  • Warn children to be extra alert in bad weather. Visibility might be poor and motorists might not be able to see them or stop quickly.
  • Consider starting or participating in any existing walking school bus programs.  Ask your school if they have a program.  For more information about how a walking school bus works, visit walkingschoolbus.org.
  • Talk to your teens about distractions. Cell phone use, whether texting, talking, or listening to music with headphones, can distract a pedestrian from seeing or hearing oncoming vehicles.
  • Be a good role model. Children need you to not only tell them, but also show them how to be safe pedestrians.

To read the full report, visit www.safekids.org/walkingsafely. For more information about pedestrian safety, call Safe Kids Kansas at 785-296-1223, or visit www.safekids.org or www.safekidskansas.org.

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