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What is the best way to determine if the route my child takes to walk to school is safe?

 

A:

It can be a big step to let your child walk to school without you for the first time. As parents, you may walk with them several times to scope it out yourself, but it can be hard to tell how the child will react on their own.

One of my colleagues lives in a quiet neighborhood that is two blocks from a main street. There are sidewalks and stop signs everywhere, but he said he would never let his kids walk to school through his neighborhood. Thinking he was crazy, I asked why—so he took me for a walk toward the elementary school a few blocks away.

The first thing I noticed was that at a four-way stop, one of the stop signs was almost completely covered by a tree. No matter how often it got trimmed, he said, it always grew over, and drivers from that direction always nearly blew through the stop sign. As we were walking, a sports car from a nearby dealership came tearing down the short strip of road, followed by half a dozen more over the course of our 10-minute walk. Despite the 30 mph speed limit, he said, this was one of the few straight streets off of the main road, and drivers excited to test drive the powerful cars often did so down this street.

Despite its outwardly safe appearance with low traffic volume, my friend’s neighborhood was indeed not ideal for small children walking to school. Take a walk with your kids down their chosen route and check out the following:

  • Availability of crosswalks and sidewalks
  • Speed limits and traffic
  • Driver behavior
  • Signage clarity, visibility, and availability

If the route falls short in any category, it may be best to hold off on allowing your child to walk to school until they are a bit older and more experienced. Typically, children start to gain important judgment skills that can help keep them safe around fifth grade. Remember, children cannot gain safe walking skills at any age unless you practice safe habits with them.

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