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Children can’t estimate traffic gaps when trying to cross the street

Crossing guard Irene Adolf moves a cone in a school zone in West Valley City on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, as West Valley police conduct a crosswalk safety operation.

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — A recent enforcement activity related to pedestrian safety, conducted by Taylorsville police, resulted in 88-violations.  And information learned during the activity, when combined with recent research, offers insight into why children may contribute to auto-pedestrian accidents. 

Accidents increase as school lets out for the day

 Taylorsville police and the Utah Highway Safety Office noted that auto-pedestrian crashes seem to spike right around 3 p.m., just as school is letting children out for the day.

Last year, there were 763 auto-pedestrian crashes in Utah according to Jason Mettmann, Communications Manager for the Utah Highway Safety Office. More than one-third of them involved failure to yield the right of way. 

Related: KSL Traffic Center

Mettmann said kids’ behaviors contributed to some of the auto-pedestrian accidents.  “They miss-timed when they should step into the street after a car passes them.  They can’t judge the gap between the next car,” he said.

Research shows kids lack certain perceptual judgment

A new study from the University of Iowa backs up Mettmann’s statement.  This study found that 6-year-old kids were hit by cars 8% of the time crossing roads.

The study also found that children between ages 6 and 13 lack the perceptual judgment to cross busy roads without putting themselves in danger.  In other words, they’re unable to identify the length of the gaps between passing cars.

Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults when crossing the street,” one researcher noted. “But, our study shows that’s not necessarily the case on busy roads where traffic doesn’t stop.”

The study concludes that parents need to find out if their children are struggling to understand or properly perceive traffic patterns. And, the study said, parents should understand that kids may not have the fine motor skills needed to step into the street the moment a car passes.

Misconceptions of pedestrian travel

Mettmann pointed to many myths which exist around pedestrian travel and that can put children and adults in danger.  “It’s a misconception that drivers can see people dressed in white shirts versus darker colors,” was one example Mettmann used.  

He’s asking parents to go to pedestrianmyths.utah.gov to learn more about kids and pedestrian safety.  

Parents can also use saferoutes.utah.gov to identify the safest routes for their children to use walking to and from school.