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Study explores just how safe it is for kids to walk to school

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made some very startling findings when it comes to the rates of fatal motor vehicle accidents and fatal pedestrian accidents among children:

  • Among children ages 2 to 14, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death.
  • One out of every five children killed in traffic accidents here in the U.S. every year were walking when the incident occurred.

In light of these sobering statistics, it makes perfect sense that many parents may have reservations about allowing their children to walk to school.

However, a recently published study in the medical journal Pediatrics indicates that walking by itself is not dangerous to children. Rather, it's the location of where they will be walking that matters.

As part of the study, Canadian researchers observed how children across the city of Toronto arrived at 118 schools on a single day back in 2011.

From there, they proceeded to compare their observations with the number of reported pedestrian accidents within the designated school boundaries from 2002 to 2011.These reported pedestrian accidents included a total of 481 incidents within 105 of the school boundaries. While the vast majority were minor, one was fatal and 30 were deemed serious.

Next, the researchers proceeded to examine what traffic control measures were located in the school boundaries, including everything from traffic lights to speed bumps and crossing guards.

Not surprisingly, the researchers first concluded that children who walked to school were indeed somewhat more likely to be involved in an accident. Perhaps more counterintuitive, they also determined that the more traffic control measures present, the much higher the risk of pedestrian accidents.

According to researchers, all this points to the fact that areas with more traffic control measures are naturally busier in terms of overall traffic, meaning children using school routes that traverse these areas are obviously at a greater risk.

"It's not that the traffic light is where the crash happens. It's that if you're in a neighborhood with lots of traffic lights, that's probably the kind of built environment that's built for cars rather than for children," said the lead researcher.

In fact, the researchers concluded by holding that the solution isn't stopping children from walking to school -- which has been linked to positive health effects -- but making the streets they must use to get to school that much safer.

Do your children walk to school? If so, what are your thoughts on this study? Do you feel that the streets they walk are safe or could more traffic control measures be introduced?

Source: KTBC, "Having kids walk to school comes with risks, benefits," Brenda Goodman, April 7, 2014

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