Coordinator, Family Safety Programs, Minnesota Safety Council
Preschoolers are growing up in a lot of ways and it’s a big job to keep them safe. Even if preschoolers don’t fully understand the dangers of the world around them, parents should explain why safety is important and always be a good role model.
According to Safe Kids USA, children ages 4 and under are at greatest risk of traffic-related pedestrian injuries. Select safe places to walk and play. Don't let young children play in driveways, unfenced yards, streets or parking lots; these are the places where young children are most likely to be injured. In addition, 4 out of 5 driveway-related incidents occur to children ages 4 and under.
Until the age of 10 or so, children need active adult supervision to help them navigate safely through areas where vehicles travel. Always hold the hand of your preschooler when walking near traffic, such as on sidewalks, in parking lots, and when crossing the street. Keep in mind that preschoolers can move in unpredictable ways. While walking about, they can unexpectedly change direction quickly and quietly and often do not stop, even if a parent asks them to.
Because of their short attention spans, young children are likely to forget about the traffic when playing and dart out into the road when they get excited. They do not realize that cars are dangerous. And young children get highly absorbed by whatever they are doing, including chasing a ball behind a car. Teach your preschooler not to chase after a toy or pet that might go out into the street. In addition, young children cannot accurately judge the speed or distance of oncoming vehicles and in many cases their size does not allow them to be visible to drivers.
It is important for parents to begin to teach and model safe behaviors around cars when near roads, driveways, on sidewalks and parking lots. Talk to your preschooler about what you're doing and why. Explain why you always have to hold hands. Your child will start to learn by example if you always cross at pedestrian crossings or corners, wait for the lights, and look in every direction for oncoming traffic.
Parents need to remain vigilant and keep road safety and injury prevention top of mind at all times during this active stage in your child’s life.