For many of us, crossing the street is a common part of our routine; so common, in fact, many of us fail to recognize the 26-plus skills that we are using. These physical, perceptive, cognitive and critical thinking skills are developed as children grow. Adults may think because a child has learned basic safety rules, he is then ready to cross streets by himself. However, knowing the rules does not mean a child has developed the skills needed or the ability to apply the skills in different traffic situations. While there is some controversy on the age at which children should cross the street by themselves, many experts agree that children younger than 10 years of age do not have the skills necessary to safely cross a street without a responsible adult or older child present. Younger children lack the peripheral vision, depth perception, ability to judge speed and distance of traffic, along with other skills necessary to safely cross the street. It may take children with physical or developmental delays even longer to acquire pedestrian skills.
- Look before crossing the street. As adults, we train children to look left, right and left before crossing the street. However, in spite of this emphasis on looking, many children fail to look before crossing the street. Observations of children at street crossings have reported that as many as 50 percent of children fail to look before crossing the intersection. Even fewer children look behind them before crossing the street - a crucial error since the majority of intersections allow right turn on red.
- Use sidewalks and crosswalks. Children may think that they are visible, but not using designated pedestrian walkways creates a hazard for all. Seventy-four percent of child pedestrian deaths occur at non-intersectional locations.
- Use visual and auditory skills. It is not enough that the child look "left, right, left, behind" before crossing the street. Indeed, in studies of children who have been hit by a car, as many as 31 percent reported they did look in all directions before crossing the street. Depth perception, peripheral vision, and the ability to judge distance and speed often aren't fully developed until the child is 10. Younger children also aren't able to localize sounds - such as sirens - as well as adults.
- Pay attention, and resist distraction. Children must also be able to determine which things they see are irrelevant (a bug that is on the pavement) and those things that are important (the large truck that has a turn signal on). They then must be able to focus on the task at hand, rather than becoming distracted by other things that they see.
- Process information, and use good judgment. Children must be able to quickly scan the environment, process all the information, identify potential hazards, determine the potential consequences of those hazards, quickly determine a course of action, and then act quickly. Once they begin crossing the street, they must continue to scan the environment and make adaptations to their initial plan. We have all started to cross a street, only to find that we have to walk more swiftly because a car is speeding toward us. Younger children often aren't able to adapt or, in blind faith, believe that the car will stop.