Walking to school is a great way for children to stay healthy, learn to navigate their neighbourhood safely and meet new friends. It also reduces traffic in school zones which increases road safety for walkers and cyclists approaching the school.
Parents and children must be familiar with traffic safety rules. For children, simply speaking about traffic safety does not lead to safer behaviours. Walking with children and negotiating neighbourhood streets with them, while explaining how to make safe choices provides an experience and opportunity to develop traffic safety awareness. This is an ideal way for children to practice safe pedestrian skills. Parents and caregivers can teach children these skills and create opportunities for them to demonstrate that they understand and know how to walk safely.
It is crucial for parents to model safe pedestrian behaviours. Children will do what you do, so always ensure you make safe choices. For children, the most obvious journeys for learning to be a safe pedestrian are the ones made to and from school each day. Many parents, for a variety of reasons, choose to drive their children to school. Unfortunately, this denies children the experience of learning to cross roads safely. It also creates danger for other children, who are walking and cycling in the neighbourhood.
For parents who must drive, they may consider parking safely away from the school site to walk the last few blocks to school with their children.
Pedestrian Safety Guidelines
- Walk on the inside edge of the sidewalk, away from the curb or roadway so you are less exposed to vehicles.
- Where there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic so that oncoming vehicles are visible.
- Stay away from the road edge or curb while waiting at an intersection to cross the road. Take one giant step back to ensure you are well away from vehicles turning the corner or passing close by the sidewalk.
- Steps to crossing safely at an intersection without lights:
- Stop at the curb, and stay one giant step away from the road edge.
- If traffic is light, wait until all traffic has passed or there is a long gap in traffic, providing enough time to cross safely. Look left, right and left again before crossing.
- If traffic is heavy, extend an arm to indicate the desire to cross and wait for cars to stop (they may stop even before an arm is extended). Once you have ensured that all vehicles have stopped look left, right and left again before stepping into the road.
- Always make eye contact with a vehicle driver and ensure that the vehicle is stopped before stepping off the curb to cross a road. Look left, right and left again before you cross.
- When crossing a multi-lane road, do not assume that when one vehicle stops the car in the next lane will also stop. Pedestrians must ensure that vehicles in each travel lane are stopped before they proceed across the road. Approaching vehicles may pass or go around a stopped car.
- When crossing at a signalized crosswalk a pedestrian light will indicate that you can cross the road. Always check to ensure vehicles have actually stopped. Look left, right, and left again to confirm that traffic is stopped before stepping off the curb, into the street.
- Never assume a driver has seen you, particularly in poor weather. Heavy rain, fog or snow makes it much harder for a driver to notice pedestrians and bicyclists. Make eye contact with the driver and ensure the vehicle is stopped before crossing in front of it.
- Wear bright clothes in low light conditions, and additional reflective materials at dawn, dusk and night when vehicle lights are in use.
- Fluorescent materials are not necessarily reflective. Fluorescent colours are suitable for daytime conditions but ineffective at night. They are also less visible than white fabrics. Under low-light conditions, reflective materials are necessary to ensure safety.
- A reflective dangle-tag that moves about on a child’s back pack or coat is better seen by a driver than a stationary piece of attached reflective material.
- Remove at least one earpiece of your portable music player before crossing the street; you need to be able to hear any signs of danger.
- Never cross a street mid block. Cross only at corners or crosswalks.
- Parking lots require special consideration. Vehicles often move without warning. Children must to stay well back from cars in parking lots, and be taught to anticipate that vehicles may back out or move unexpectedly.
List adapted from the Pedestrian Crossing Control Manual for British Columbia and information distributed by the Canadian Institute of Child Health.
Rules for railway crossings
- Never play around railway crossings. These are danger zones.
- Trains always have the right of way. They do not slow down at crossings. Use designated railway crossings and obey all signals and signs.
- Wait until a train passes completely before crossing the tracks. Watch for more than one train, and check if a train is coming from the opposite direction.
- Look left-right-left before crossing. Be extra careful and watch your step when crossing railway tracks.
Pedestrian and visibility awareness activities for elementary school students
The following ideas originated in BC schools as they worked to increase opportunities for children to walk, bike, rideshare and take transit to school. Ideas can be simple, or they can incorporate many levels of education and organization.
- Organize a project for students to create Be Safe Be Seen banners or posters.
- Organize a Visibility Awareness Assembly with skits, reflectivity demonstration, and cool colourful clothes.
- Have students design posters emphasizing visibility, safe pedestrian and bicycling skills, and small wheels helmet use to be displayed in classrooms and in the halls of the school.
- Plan a Bright Boot and Umbrella Parade
Ensuring that a child is visible to motorists when walking or biking to school
- Combine bright and white colours with reflective strips and features on outer clothing for daytime, low light and night conditions. The brighter the better!
- Bright and white colours along with reflective materials help keep pedestrians safer as they walk, wait for transit or for the school bus. This is particularly important in wet rainy weather, and on dark rural roads.
- Reflective materials work in low light and at night. Reflection occurs when light rays strike a material and bounce off it. This special material includes reflective strips and reflector tags. A thumb size reflective tag means car headlights can see a pedestrian from 500 feet away. A car travelling at 60 MPH needs 260 feet to stop.
- Backpacks and coats should have reflective strips and/or reflective dangle tags added. These can also be placed on gloves, hats, and umbrellas.
- Fluorescent colours are effective in daylight but they are not adequate in low light or dark conditions; be sure to add reflective strips and dangle tags to be visible at dusk, dawn and at night.
- Reflective tags or tape should be attached to strollers that are pushed ahead of pedestrians. This will ensure they are more visible to drivers approaching an intersection or crosswalk.
- Flashlights help children see better and make them more visible to motorists.
- Reinforce safe pedestrian practices. In particular it is important to walk facing traffic where there are no sidewalks. This allows a pedestrian to see approaching vehicles.
Traffic safety resources for teachers and parents
The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) has free Road Safety Resources that are B.C. Ministry of Education recommended resources. These classroom materials can be ordered online by teachers and principals.