Schools: Addressing the Behaviors of Parents and Caregivers
Those who drop-off and pick up their children from school or exceed speed limits in school zones often pose the greatest risk to child pedestrians and bicyclists. It is important that enforcement efforts include educating drivers and ticketing if necessary to encourage compliance of traffic laws and reinforce that safety is a priority.
While many elementary schools and some middle schools include pedestrian and bicycle safety education in the school curriculum, parents and caregivers continue to play the most influential role in their child's behavior. The more knowledgeable parents are about bicycle and pedestrian safety, the better models they can be for their children. The following handout discusses three important roles parents and caregivers play in enhancing the safety of children's walking and bicycling to school. Parents and caregivers are:
Parents and Caregivers as Teachers and Role Models
To be a good role model for walking and bicycling parents and caregivers need to know the safest walking and bicycling practices and use them. Law enforcement officers should remind parents and caregivers that children's cognitive abilities are still developing and they lack training and experience in traffic safety. Parents and caregivers need to teach and model safe behavior.
Key Messages for Parents: Child Development and Traffic Safety
- are smaller than adults and less visible to motorists; they are easily hidden behind parked vehicles, trees, shrubs, etc.
- have not learned to drive or experience driving; they do not intuitively understand the habits of drivers or the operational characteristics of a motor vehicle.
- have difficulty judging distance and the speed of oncoming traffic; they are unable to accurately predict if it is safe to cross. It is especially difficult for children to judge the arrival time of traffic coming from two directions at once and determine if a particular gap in traffic will provide them sufficient time to cross the street. This is why children are inclined to run across the street.
- do not naturally use their peripheral vision. Children can be taught to use their peripheral vision when searching for traffic, however, children in grades K–3 have slower reaction times than older children and adults in identifying relevant objects in their peripheral vision.
- do not automatically use sound to determine traffic location, and must be taught to do so.
- think that if they can see themselves, that other people can see them too.
- are often restless, impatient, easily distracted and focused on the moment and/or themselves at the moment. They have trouble waiting for things like traffic lights or cars heading in their direction. They lack impulse control and are present-oriented.
- are in the process of developing a sense of danger, but may frequently misunderstand the complexity of traffic situations.
- typically do not understand the serious consequences that their actions can have on their own safety.
- believe that grownups will look out for them.
- have the right to be supervised and are ultimately accountable to a parent or caregiver
For a parent handout see Preventing Bicycle Crashes: Parents and Caregivers
Key Messages for Parents: Modeling Safe Pedestrian Behavior
The following are the most important behaviors to teach children both through example and instruction.
- Walk, don't run across the street. When you are walking with your child, never cross the street in a situation where it is necessary to run in order to make it to the other side. This only reinforces to the child that it is okay to cross in this manner.
- As a pedestrian, look left, right, and left again for traffic before crossing a street, and check behind you and ahead for turning vehicles that might be about to cross your path.
- Teach children to look left, right, behind and ahead for traffic before crossing a driveway as well.
- Always look for moving traffic while crossing a road. Your behavior may need to be adjusted because others don't see you or aren't doing what they should be doing.
- At signalized intersections, obey Walk/Wait pedestrian signals.
- Avoid crossing at mid-block locations; use crosswalks.
For a parent handout, see NHTSA's Prevent Pedestrian Crashes: Parents and Caregivers.
For a child handout, see NHTSA's: A Kid's Guide to Safe Walking.
Key Messages for Parents: Modeling Safe Bicyclist Behavior
- Always wear a helmet that is fastened and properly fitted.
- If riding on the sidewalk act as a pedestrian; obey all pedestrian signs and signals and walk your bicycle across the street at intersections. Ride slowly and carefully around pedestrians and look and listen for cars coming out of driveways as they are not likely to expect to see a fast moving vehicle on a sidewalk.
- If riding in the street, act as a vehicle; obey all traffic laws including traffic signs and signal.
- Always ride in the same direction as motor vehicles.
- Before entering the street, changing lanes, crossing streets or turning, look left, right, in front and behind for traffic before proceeding.
- Use hand signals.
For a parent handout, see NHTSA's Preventing Bicycle Crashes: Parents and Caregivers
Parents and Caregivers as Decision Makers about Travel
Ultimately, parents and caregivers decide how their children will get to school and what routes they take to get there. Many factors play into this decision such as scheduling, distance, traffic and crime. Parents, should consider allowing their children to walk or bicycle to school as much as possible. The benefits of doing so include:
- A reduction in traffic around the school and neighborhood.
- An increase in children's physical activity which may help combat the recent trend toward childhood obesity and related health problems.
- A reduction in auto emissions and local pollution levels through a reduction in auto trips.
As a law enforcement officer, you can play an important role in encouraging more parents to support their child in walking or bicycling to school. Consult your local school to be informed of their policies and ensure that your encouragement messages to parents support the school's overall approach and Safe Routes to School Program.
Note: Children are strongly encouraged to walk and/or bicycle in groups with adult supervision. See below for more information based on the age of the child.
Key Encouragement Messages for Parents
- Children in grades K–3, who live within walking distance of the school or school bus stop should be encouraged to regularly walk with parents, or in some situations older siblings or school children well known to the parents. (Check with the local school for specific policies.)
- Before age 10, children are not encouraged to walk to school or the bus stop alone. However, opportunities exist to form walking or bicycling groups where parents share the responsibility of daily supervision. [Click here for more information.]
- In many school districts, students under the age of 10 are not encouraged to bicycle to school. Before this age, children are not sufficiently skilled to bicycle and negotiate traffic without appropriate adult supervision.
- Children in grades 4–8, who live within walking or bicycling distance of school or a bus stop, may be encouraged to walk or bicycle regularly in small groups; with or without parental supervision depending on the traffic safety and general security of the route.
- Parents of children of any age should always:
- Determine and designate the safest walking route to school.
- Point out possible traffic hazards to their children and reinforce ways to avoid the hazards.
- Teach, practice and reinforce safe walking habits.
- Begin the pedestrian safety education process by walking with their children during the first week of school and periodically at other times to reinforce safe walking/bicycling habits through 6th grade.
- Consult with other parents who use the same walking route and create a shared responsibility for walking to school (a walking pool) like in a carpool.
- Pick up: When parents/caregivers are picking up children at the end of the day to walk them home, they should be on the school side of the street when the bell rings. Distracted children spotting parents across the street may dash into the roadway without looking first.
Parents and Caregivers as Drivers
Parents and caregivers driving on campus or in neighborhoods near school can play an important role in enhancing safety near schools by following safe driving practices. At arrival and dismissal times, drivers are often in a hurry and distracted. This tendency can lead to unsafe conditions for students and others walking, bicycling and driving in the area.
Key Messages for Parents and Caregivers When Driving:
Drivers should always:
- Slow down and obey all traffic laws and speed limits, both in school zones and in neighborhoods surrounding the school.
- Comply with local school drop-off and pick-up procedures for the safety of all children accessing the school.
- Avoid double parking or stopping on crosswalks to let children out of the car. Double parking will block visibility for other children and other motorists. Visibility is further reduced during the rain and fog seasons when condensation forms on car windows.
- Avoid loading or unloading children at locations across the street from the school. This forces youngsters to unnecessarily cross busy streets—often mid-block rather than at a crosswalk.
- Prepare to stop for a school bus when overhead yellow lights are flashing. Drive with caution when you see yellow hazard warning lights are flashing on a moving or stopped bus.
- Stop for a school bus with its red overhead lights flashing, regardless of the direction from which the driver is approaching unless the road is a divided highway. Drivers must not proceed until the school bus resumes motion and the red lights stop flashing, or until signaled by the school bus driver to proceed.
- Watch for children walking or bicycling (both on the and on the sidewalks) in areas near a school.
- Watch for children playing and gathering near bus stops. Watch for children arriving late for the bus, who may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
- Watch for children walking or biking to school when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage.
The following related resources can be ordered and/or downloaded and used as handouts for distribution to the public:
- Getting Children to School Safely: Parents are the Key, pamphlet, AAA Traffic Safety Services (Florida Club), Stock #332003, 2002. Available at http://aaawa.com/news_safety/safety_patrol/documents/parents1.pdf
- Parents Avoid Becoming a Traffic Hazard, bookmark flyer, Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education, AAA Mid-Atlantic Inc., 2006: http://www.aaamidatlantic.com/assets/safety/parents_tc_press.pdf
- Prevent Bicycle Crashes: Parents and Caregivers, NHTSA, April 2007, 3- page flyer, Document #DOT HS 810 000. Available at: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/DOT/NHTSA/ Traffic%20Injury%20Control/Articles/Associated%20Files/Prevent.pdf
- Your local Safe Parent Drop-off and Pick-up Rules flyer, contact local school or school district, or city or county department of transportation.