Crossing a busy street requires calculations too complex for kids younger than 14, a new study finds.
In simulated experiments, University of Iowa researchers found children lack the perceptual judgment and physical skills needed to consistently get across safely.
“Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults when crossing the street,” said study corresponding author Jodie Plumert, a professor of psychological and brain sciences.
“Our study shows that’s not necessarily the case on busy roads where traffic doesn’t stop,” Plumert said in a university news release.
In 2014, there were 8,000 injuries and 207 deaths involving motor vehicles and pedestrians aged 14 and younger in the United States, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis.
For this new study, researchers used a realistic simulated setting to assess the ability of children ages 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 years to cross one lane of a busy road.
The younger children consistently had difficulty crossing the street safely, with accident rates as high as 8 percent among 6-year-olds. Even 10-year-olds were struck 5 percent of the time, and 12-year-olds, 2 percent of the time, the findings showed.
Only the 14-year-olds consistently crossed the street safely, according to the study authors.
Parents need to recognize that young children may have difficulty identifying gaps in traffic that are large enough to cross safely. Children also may not yet have the fine motor skills to step into the street the moment a car has passed, the researchers said.
And, if you’re a child, eagerness can override reason when judging the best moment to cross a busy street.
“They get the pressure of not wanting to wait combined with these less-mature abilities,” Plumert said. “And that’s what makes it a risky situation.”
Teach your children to be patient and encourage them to choose traffic gaps that are even larger than the gaps adults would choose for themselves, the researchers suggested.
City planners should pinpoint places where children are likely to cross streets and make sure those intersections have a pedestrian-crossing aid, the researchers added.
“If there are places where kids are highly likely to cross the road, because it’s the most efficient route to school, for example, and traffic doesn’t stop there, it would be wise to have crosswalks,” Plumert said.
The study results were published April 20 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.
Safe Kids Worldwide has more on pedestrian safety.