Keeping kids safe outdoors as the world and the roads reopen

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With most states reopening, kids and adults are getting back into regular routines. For adults, this means going back to work, which also means more cars on the roads. For kids, a regular summer routine usually consists of riding bikes, playing in the community and heading to the local playground for fresh air and exercise. With more time spent outside, road dangers are greater, requiring safety measures to be put into place.

Some kids navigate the world without the lens for road safety and are not fully aware of the dangers on neighborhood roads, especially with more cars driving around. Parents and community members can work together to keep kid road safety at the top of mind as the world reopens by instituting rules and creating awareness for all parties. Drivers should be reminded of road safety in and around communities and areas where pedestrians, bike riders and groups of people congregate.

In this article

Road risks and dangers

Kids do not always pay attention to their surroundings outside, especially when at play. In an instant, a child can run after a toy into the street if they are not aware of road rules and how to follow them. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) collected 2019 data for car crashes leading to child death, showing that 16% of kids were pedestrians and 4% were on bicycles. The highest percentage of pedestrian deaths occurred in kids between the ages of 1 and 3 years old at 25%. Advocating for neighborhood and kid road safety can reduce the risk of vehicle-related death for children by encouraging everyone to do their part in following road rules.

How to be an advocate for neighborhood safety

  1. Create a neighborhood watch program or join the existing one in your community. Coordinating a group can help neighbors get to know each other, reduce crime and allow local law enforcement to educate and provide valuable resources within the neighborhood.
  2. Be a safe driver in and around your neighborhood. Check to see if there are kids playing nearby and drive according to the posted speed limit. Always be aware and practice safe driving habits and encourage others to do the same.
  3. Make sure your kids know the neighborhood. Take your kids for walks around the community so they can get to know their way home. You can point out any unsafe areas and where you prefer your kids to play.
  4. Give your kids safe boundaries and identify how far they can go. Make sure they are aware of places to avoid, like abandoned properties and potentially dangerous areas where they could get hurt.
  5. Be aware of your child’s location. Some parents may opt for smartphones or smartwatches that have tracking capabilities. Encourage your children to ask permission before leaving your property, know when they should be home and how to contact you if they need to.

Road safety

It is largely the responsibility of the driver to ensure roads are safe, especially for pedestrians who could be walking, biking or playing close by. A study conducted by the University of London concluded that kids 15 and under have trouble perceiving how fast a car is driving when going 25 mph or greater, unless they are looking at the approaching vehicle directly. Due to kids not always having a high awareness of vehicle speeds around them and instances of distracted driving, especially in young drivers, not following road safety rules can end critically.

Tips for drivers

  1. Always obey the posted speed limit and slow down if you see kids, pedestrians or bike riders nearby.
  2. Put the phone away and pay attention to the roads and your surroundings, especially in neighborhoods.
  3. Remain vigilant and stay alert at all times while behind the wheel.
  4. Have a safe driving plan in place, including putting breaks into your schedule if you have a longer drive, making adjustments to the car before you drive and pulling over to drink, eat or make a phone call.
  5. Know the rules of the road and obey them, like always remembering to signal and keep a three-second safe distance between your car and the car or person in front of you.

Street and driveway safety

  1. Always make sure kids are not playing around or under your car before driving off, especially when parked in your driveway. Each week, at least 50 kids are backed over by cars in the U.S. The majority of victims are under 2 years old, with more than 60% of backovers involving large vehicles like trucks, vans and SUVs.
  2. Check for pedestrians, bike riders, skateboarders and kids that could be playing nearby. Avoid speeding in residential areas and use caution when driving in neighborhoods.
  3. Create safe play areas for kids that are away from parked or moving cars. Teach your kids the driveway is a toy-free zone to avoid enticing other kids to play there.
  4. If you have young kids, hold their hand and monitor them when walking on driveways, near moving cars, on sidewalks and in parking lots.
  5. Ensure kids are supervised when someone is coming to or leaving your home. Toddlers are especially vulnerable to driveway and street mishaps, as many want to greet or wave goodbye when someone is arriving or leaving.

Dangerous road conditions

Even with excellent driving skills and awareness measures, dangerous road conditions can create scenarios that jeopardize kids’ safety. Knowing the dangers can help you make fast decisions to keep the road safe even when conditions are not.

Lack of proper signage

There are many ways a road, highway or neighborhood street could lack proper signage. A crosswalk could be missing where one should be, there could be a sharp curve that does not have a warning sign or a dangerous intersection could need a traffic light put in to prevent crashes. Staying vigilant and aware of your surroundings and using a GPS in unfamiliar places can help you navigate the roads safely.

Aggressive drivers

Aggressive drivers are often unsafe drivers, putting other drivers, pedestrians and kids at risk. These drivers may speed through the neighborhood or exhibit signs of road rage such as cursing, making obscene gestures, trying to force a driver off the road or ramming or sideswiping another vehicle.

How to report a road or driver issue

Whether you need to report an aggressive driver, dangerous road conditions or request signage or a traffic light, it is important to know where to turn.

Who should I contact?

  1. State roads and highways: For state roads and highways, the Department of Transportation (DOT) in your state is a good point of contact. The DOT handles traffic regulation, maintenance and safety enforcement, among other issues. Some states have contact forms you can fill out, while others require a phone call or email to report your issue.
  2. City and county roads: Cities and counties in each state have a road services or road maintenance division to contact for road and driver issues. The best form of contact depends on the city or county, with online forms, phone numbers and emails available to report or track issues.
  3. Private roads: To report an issue on a private road, contact the individual or homeowner’s association that owns the road. You may contact your state DOT to find out who the owner is to contact them. If it is an easement or right-of-way issue, there may be a Right-of-Way Enforcement officer to contact.

What should I say?

  • Report dangerous road conditions: When reporting dangerous conditions, provide the cross street intersection with both street names. Detail the road hazard and why you are reporting it. Some examples may include requesting a warning sign for a sharp curve or a crosswalk for a road that is frequently walked.
  • Request a sign or signal: To request a sign or signal, provide the cross street names for the intersection. If you witnessed an accident or a close call with a car, bike or pedestrian, provide details to the contact person. You may have to provide the information over the phone or through written request, so be prepared for either with detailed information on why you suggest installing a sign or signal.
  • Report an aggressive driver: Avoid engaging with an aggressive driver and try to stay out of their way. When you can safely do so, call your local state police using the non-emergency phone number (311) or state-designated three-digit emergency number. Provide the exact location, description of the vehicle and driver and what behavior you saw. If you can, also provide the license plate number and direction they were traveling in.

Outdoor safety

It is important for kids of all ages to practice outdoor safety, follow the rules set in place and understand how to react in certain situations. These tips could help kids arrive home safely, prevent pedestrian injury or even potential death.

  • Walking: Kids should learn at an early age to look left, right and then left again before crossing the street. They should obey traffic signals, stay within crosswalks, cross at designated street corners and walk on sidewalks or paths instead of in the street. With limited perception, kids should walk in groups whenever possible and avoid distractions like cell phones when walking alone to stay aware of their surroundings.
  • Parks and playgrounds: If possible, kids should be supervised at parks and playgrounds and be in an age-appropriate play area to limit the risk of injury. Kids should dress appropriately, avoiding necklaces, scarves and other items that could get caught while playing or become a strangulation hazard. It also helps to look for hazards in the play area and teach kids of all ages not to push or shove others, as it could be dangerous and result in injury.
  • Do not talk to strangers: When warning your children against strangers, it helps to use age-appropriate language. Consider creating a safe word with your child to use if someone unfamiliar to them tries to talk to them or pick them up. Use the buddy system with a sibling or trusted friend so your child does not walk alone or talk to strangers and each can alert the other to potential danger.
  • Proper outdoor protection: When kids are playing outside, they are at greater risk of having an allergy attack, getting bug bites, sunburn or even becoming dehydrated. Kids should be properly protected from these elements and understand when they should find help or come inside.
  • Getting injured: Kids can commonly come home with a scrape or bruise after playing outdoors, even when wearing proper attire. Ensure your child knows where a first-aid kit is at home and make sure it is stocked at all times. Have a plan in place in case your child needs medical attention. Important phone numbers should also be accessible.

Safety tech for kids

There is an app for almost everything, including promoting safety for kids by preventing distracted driving and keeping them safe while outdoors. Some apps or devices may also get you a discount on your car insurance.

Prevent distracted driving apps

  • True Motion – This free app tracks the entire family’s driving habits and how well they practice safety road rules, sending alerts on where each family member is and details about the trip.
  • Drive Smart – DriveSmart provides metrics on driving habits, certifies driving skills and allows users to earn coins to exchange for rewards.
  • SMARTwheel – This smart steering wheel cover provides real-time feedback using lights and tones to help you drive smarter and tracks your driving habits so you can view your trip data later.
  • Distracted Driving Device – This Bluetooth-enabled docking device provides access to GPS and music, but prevents the car from starting unless the driver docks their phone in the glove box.
  • Truce – This app restricts the use of distracting apps and phone actions in certain contexts, such as driving.

Child Safety apps

  • FamilyTime Premium – This app works with most devices to limit screen time, provide GPS tracking, monitor calls and text messages and more.
  • Kaspersky Safe Kids Premium – Kaspersky works with both iOS and Android to offer GPS tracking, geofencing, alerts and internet monitoring.
  • AngelSense – Created with autism safety in mind, this GPS tracker can be attached to your kid’s clothes or backpack and offers updates and virtual fencing to keep your kids safe at home, school or while playing in the neighborhood.
  • Relay phone – This smartphone without a screen operates similarly to a walkie-talkie and has nationwide coverage, limits distractions by offering one-touch communication and has GPS tracking to keep kids safe and parents connected.
  • Find My Kids – This free app is offered on iOS and Android and notifies you when your kids enter and leave set locations, keeps a record of travelled routes, allows you to hear your kids’ surroundings and has an SOS option that shares their exact location when they are in danger and cannot call you.
Written by
Mandy Sleight
Insurance Contributor
Mandy Sleight has been a licensed insurance agent since 2005. She has three years of experience writing for insurance websites such as Bankrate.com, MoneyGeek and The Simple Dollar. Mandy writes about auto, homeowners, renters, life insurance, disability and supplemental insurance products.
Edited by
Insurance Editor