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4 Things You Can Do to Raise Traffic-Safe Kids

Tragically, traffic crashes are the #1 leading cause of death for North Carolina kids ages 5 – 14 (Source: NC Department of Health and Human Services).

 

Keep your kids safe with these 4 simple tips.

 

1 – Show Them What Safety Looks Like

In the middle of your third Zoom meeting of the day, you look over to see your four year old daughter pounding away on a plastic keyboard, balancing her toy cell phone on her shoulder and talking like a boss baby. Her air of authority makes you laugh and pulls your attention away from your call. Your mini-me is at it again.

 

Watching our kids imitate us can be a warm and gratifying experience. It also serves as an important reminder of the observant eyes that soak up our behavior like a little sponge. On the road, it’s especially important to give them a good example to follow.

 

Children start learning how to drive as soon as you turn their car seat facing forward.

 

 

The way you drive now is how your kids will drive when they get a license.

 

By modeling the habits that will keep them safe on the road, you help to shape safe behaviors long before they get their license.

 

2 – Explain What You’re Doing and Why

Add another level to your child’s understanding of traffic by thinking aloud as you drive, bike, walk, or ride. The extra context clues will help them to start recognizing cues and threats like an experienced traveler.

 

Explain your decisions using “I” statements during trips with your child. For example:

 

  • Oh look, the cars way up there are braking. I will slow down too.”
  • “Since it’s raining, it may be hard for people to see this car. I’m going to put on my headlights so they can see us.”
  • “I’m not sure if that driver can see me yet, I’m going to wait to cross until we make eye contact.”
  • “There’s a pedestrian at that crosswalk! I’m going to stop and wave at her so she can cross safely.”
  • “That big truck may not be able to see my car, so I’m going to give it plenty of space.”

 

3 – Practice Safety Together

The next important step to prepare your child is to practice together. As you’re traveling, ask your child open-ended questions to test his awareness and understanding of threats and situations. Play out circumstances he might encounter and ask him what he would do.

 

Try it out:

  • Take a walk through your neighborhood to practice crossing the street safely and looking and listening for cars. If you feel comfortable, take a walk in a busier location to give them experience with higher levels of traffic.

For more information about how to teach kids how to walk and bike safely, visit Let’s Go NC.
  • Give your kids hypothetical situations to practice speaking up as passengers. For example, pretend that you’re another parent from school and you start using a phone while driving. What should your child do in that situation? How will they tell you about it later?
  • As you’re driving, play the SPOTS game. SPOTS = See People On The Street. To play, everyone should tap their head and count aloud when they see people walking or biking. This simple game helps children practice looking for people when they (eventually) drive.

Free Resource: How to Talk to Your Kids About Traffic

 

4 – Make a Family Commitment

 

Having regular family conversations about safety will help your child internalize these habits. Discuss traffic safety rules with your family and commit to them together using this free Traffic Safety Family Contract.
Give your children permission to remind you of that commitment if they catch you doing something unsafe. By keeping each other accountable, your child will also learn how to speak up and advocate for his own safety in other situations.

16 – Beach

Congratulations! You have found the last clue! Welcome to the beach.

Great job! On this Scavenger Hunt, you walked ¾ mile. Walking is a fun way to stay healthy and go adventuring!

Fun facts about North Carolina beaches:

  • North Carolina beaches provide nesting habitats for five of the seven endangered species of sea turtles, including the loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles.
  • Many of the shells that you find on NC beaches are hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Now that you’ve completed the Scavenger Hunt, safely make your way back to Dowdy Park and visit the check-in table for prizes and give-a-ways!

15 – Crosswalk to Beach

Welcome to location #15 of the Scavenger Hunt!

You’re on a roll! (Or a walk?!)

 

At this crosswalk, let’s practice the SEP method again and focus on eye contact.

SHOW: Demonstrate how to look at drivers and make eye contact before crossing.

EXPLAIN: Talk with your child about why eye contact is so important. Ask your child the following questions:

Why is it safer to make eye contact with a driver before crossing? (Establish that they have seen you and are paying attention)

What kind of gesture will a driver make if they want to show me that they have seen me and it is safe to cross in front of them? (Wave, smile, raise hand, etc.)

PRACTICE: Hold hands with your child, make eye contact with a driver and wait for them to indicate it is safe to cross. Do this for both sides of traffic. Practice looking at the driver in both lanes as you cross.

13 – Volcano

Hooray! You found the 13th item – the Volcano!

Did you know?

The closest volcano to North Carolina is Zuni Bandera Field in New Mexico, which has not been active since 1170 B.C. and is more than 2,000 miles away.

12 – Speed Limit Sign

Congratulations! You have solved the 12th clue!

It’s really important for drivers to always follow the speed limit – especially when there are people walking or biking in or near traffic.

All road users are safer when cars are traveling slower. In fact, a difference in only 10 mph makes a huge difference in survivability if someone is hit.

(Source: ITE)

11 – Crossing

You have found the 11th location of the Scavenger Hunt!

Grown-ups – kids learn by observation. Let’s practice the SEP method (please see the brochure you received).

SHOW: Show your child how to look both ways for cars and how to listen for traffic.

EXPLAIN: Have a short discussion about why you look both ways and listen for cars. Ask questions and listen to your child to see if they understand.

PRACTICE: Now, holding hands, practice looking both ways, listening, and then crossing together. If a car approaches, practice waiting in a safe spot and making eye contact with the driver.

As you practice the SEP method with your child, they will build healthy and safe habits which will last a lifetime.

10 – Shoulder marking

Cheers! You are at the 10th location for the Scavenger Hunt!

Anytime you are walking, it’s important to use your eyes and ears to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.

What do you hear right now?

What do you see?

How can you use your eyes and your ears to stay safe on the road?

Now try plugging your ears with your fingers. What do you hear now?

If you were wearing headphones, how might that affect your awareness of your surroundings?

5 – Tree Tunnels

Yay! You solved the 5th clue.

Walking or cycling a mile to and from school each day can save 600 pounds of polluting carbon emissions per school year – the equivalent of planting a tree.

Want to learn more about walking to school? Visit https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/walk-to-school/ .

4 – Musical Chimes

Great job! You found the 4th item.

Did you know that music helps brain development and academic skills?

According to UNICEF:

“Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills.

Learning to play a musical instrument can improve mathematical learning, and even increases school scores.”

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For more information, visit: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-development/how-music-affects-your-babys-brain-class

1 – Little Free Library

Congratulations! You found the first item in the Scavenger Hunt!

This is a Little Free Library.

The more books in or near the home, the more likely a child will learn and love to read. But two out of three children living in poverty have no books to call their own.

There are more than 100,000 + Little Free Libraries in over 100 countries that provide access to more than 42 million books every year.

For more information, visit: https://littlefreelibrary.org/

Walk in Your Community Day / Walk to School Day

“Mama look! A butterfly!” She giggles and points as a bright yellow butterfly dances past. It stops to sip nectar from a small flower near the sidewalk. You hadn’t noticed that flower before. You smile and pat her backpack as you continue down the sidewalk. The cars passing can’t possibly notice that flower – or the Cardinal that cheeps at the two of you from a branch above.

The air feels cool this time of the morning. You breathe in deeply and feel a shift in the weight on your shoulders. A gentle easing. You needed that.

As you approach the next intersection, she turns to you smiling. “Almost there!” She presses the crosswalk button while looking up at the sky. “That one looks like a shark Mama,” she says as she points above.

“Ah, I see it! Shark!” you say as you wait for the light. “Ok, what do we do now?” you ask as traffic begins to slow.

She grabs your hand and starts looking back and forth down the road. “Hold hands. Look both ways. Listen!”

As you make your way across together, you think to yourself that school drop-off has never been so sweet.


For many North Carolina families, school looks very different this fall. Whether your child is meeting in a classroom or settling into lessons from home, we invite you to join us for Walk in Your Community/Walk to School Day on October 7, 2020.

Each year, thousands of North Carolina kids participate in International Walk to School Day. From the famous Walking School Bus to large parades and everything in between, communities across the state find ways to celebrate walking to school.

Photo by NCDOT

Walking one mile to and from school each day is two-thirds of the recommended sixty minutes of physical activity a day.

National Center for Safe Routes to School

How to Participate

Walk to School

  1. If your child is attending school in person, make a plan to walk there on October 7. Registered school events in North Carolina are listed on the Walk Bike to School site, but you do not have to walk with an officially registered event to participate. If your child’s school is not holding an official event, consider inviting a few of your child’s friends or other neighbors in your area.
  2. If you live far away, pick a parking spot within a mile of the school and do the last leg of the trip on foot. By practicing the route to school with your child, you teach her/him safety and health skills that they will carry for life.
  3. To plan a Walk to School Day event at your school, visit the National Walk Bike to School site at http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/plan/how-to-plan/.

In 1969 about 48% of students ages 5-14 walked or biked to school but as of 2009 this number has dropped to just 13%.

National Center for Safe Routes to School

Walk in your Community

This year, for North Carolina kids who aren’t attending in-person school or are unable to walk to school, we have adapted Walk to School Day to include Walk in Your Community Day. To participate, kids and their grown-ups can go on a walk at any place of their choice. Share pictures of your walk online and join the conversation with #walkinyourcommunity.

Physical activity can positively impact academic achievement, student morning energy levels and attention, truancy and absenteeism, and can improve schools and their communities through social bonding and community building.

North Carolina Safe Routes to School

 

Speak up if someone is unsafe. Be a PEACH!

When you’re riding in a vehicle, your life is in the driver’s hands. So, what do you do if you don’t feel safe? What can you say if the driver is distracted? How can you speak up if you want the driver to slow down or put on a seat belt?

The Be a PEACH program provides practical tips and phrases to help passengers speak up and advocate for their own safety.

MOST of us are safe on the road. If we all speak up when someone is unsafe, we can shape North Carolina’s safety culture and save lives. 

You have the right and the responsibility to speak up if someone is driving dangerously. This makes you an empowered passenger! Just remember to Be a PEACH.

Secure Your Load 2019

North Carolina Reportable Crashes Table

Secure Your Load

  1. Make sure everything in your vehicle is tied down. Use straps, twine, bungee cords, netting or rope. Be sure to tie larger items directly to your vehicle.
  2. Keep your items covered with tarps, nets or covers to keep smaller items from flying out.
  3. Don’t overload your vehicle. Your vehicle’s load shouldn’t go above the level of your truck or trailer and all items should be covered to keep them stable.

North Carolina law requires that all materials being transported in a motor vehicle are securely tied down. Failure to properly secure items can result in a $2,000 fine and a point on your driver’s license.

If you are carrying loose items, take the time to properly secure your load.

 

Teen Driver Safety Week – A Practical Interlude

Notable advocates of teen driver safety argue compellingly that teenagers drive unsafely because they lack experience. To protect teen drivers–and everyone on the road–therefore, authorities have stipulated rules intended to mitigate the effects of inexperience. In theory, deferring to these rules, rather than acting on impulse (as experienced drivers do), will make teenagers safer drivers. –Until they have experience, that is, whereupon they will supposedly drive safely anyway.

Of course, we would never discourage teen drivers from following the rules, nor dissuade parents from insisting on them before handing their teenaged children the keys. They are good rules, absolutely, based on experts’ sound assessments of empirical fact. Nonetheless, we would suggest that the rhetoric of “inexperience” oversimplifies the situation in a potentially counterproductive manner. Namely, it undermines parents’ ability to communicate the rules’ value to their teenaged children–which parents should want to do, since internalizing that value would enable their teenaged children deftly to intuit serious dangers on the road. That’s how one develops wisdom, after all: by intuition. And, wisdom is what teen drivers really need. That’s what experience is for; it’s simply a reliable (and intersubjective) means to wisdom.

Sympathy, then, is the key to effective communication–authentic sympathy–which oversimplification precludes. But, how do we sympathize with teenagers, if we suppose them to lack experience, the only ground on which separate subjectivities can possibly meet? Consider the following: Teenagers are actually quite experienced–only that their experience is not conducive to safe driving. One must study the experience they have (not the experience they could or should have) in order to sympathize authentically.

Qualities of fiction color teenagers’ experience, which, therefore, wrongly (or impractically) conditions their expectations. Rather than pertaining to what we might naively call “reality,” the experience they have pertains to a construct, which we expediently call the “teenage aesthetic.” In lieu of practical schemata whereby to interpret sensory information, nevertheless determined to act with purpose, teenagers act to realize an ideal of beauty according to this aesthetic.

They expect certain performances to issue in certain tropical narrative patterns. They expect structure in life, but structure aligned with convention, not causality. For example, driving fast characterizes a boy as a rebel. Naturally, being a character of that type affords him to seduce a particular girl. Even when the girl isn’t watching him drive, yet he must drive fast–indeed, he must be a character of that type in order to live the dramatic arc conventionally associated therewith. He must act out his role, as if begging the applause of some all-seeing, if tasteless, deity.

As an experienced driver, no doubt, you put away such fantastic notions long ago. Remember, though, that the teenage aesthetic really does affect teenagers’ behavior. They actually believe life unfolds (or should unfold) by the logic of poetry. And, if you think about it, that belief isn’t so strange: before the advent of science, the generality of mankind believed similarly.

You don’t have to be a teenager to know something about the teenage aesthetic–and, most important, to predict how it will condition a teenager’s expectations. Watch The Wonder Years or read something by S.E. Hinton and you will get a fairly good conception of it. Ask yourself, “What would someone who sees beauty herein believe he should do to realize that ideal himself?”

Above all, though, the next time you tell your teenaged children to “drive safely,” consider why they might drive unsafely to start with, and understand that it’s not just a matter of inexperience; rather, it’s a matter of aesthetics. Sympathize: Try to work traffic safety into the framework of the drama in which they believe they are acting. Make traffic safety a thing of beauty. If they perceive traffic safety as beautiful, they will accept it in principle; if they accept it in principle, they will value it; if they value it, they will follow the rules; and, if they follow the rules, they will stay safe.

Our Traffic Safety Community – At Home in Safety City

Safety City Entrance

These words will reach few ears. —But you hear them, because you and I share in community life.

Communities gather about ideas. Before we ever met, something about traffic safety attracted us. Individually, we valued the idea. Then, our values inspired us: we resolved to interact. The idea brought us together. Now, it impels us toward richer interactions, for which reason we say our community, the Vision Zero community, lives.

Community life—fragile—is perpetuated, but with difficulty. Surviving requires sustaining the idea that brought us together. Like a neglected egg, that idea’s vital goop could easily dry up, leaving only a hollow shell. Hollow ideas inspire no one. And, about hollow ideas, one never finds community life thriving.

Of course, to abandon traffic safety, forsake our community—unthinkable! Too many lives are at stake. Traffic safety is too valuable. As a hen tends her egg, therefore, to preserve the idea’s substance is our duty. We must ensure that traffic safety can be valued—that, for a long while yet, people will consider it, advocate it, glorify it. Only if the idea is sustained will the Vision Zero community live on.

If we fulfill our duty, the phrase “traffic safety” will mean more than the words that constitute it. The idea will produce real effects, real changes in people’s lives. That is our goal—but, are we doing it right? “Don’t drink and drive,” “buckle your safety belt”—do these familiar maxims sustain the idea? Was any of them the something that initially attracted you?

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that traffic safety, as it sits before us in its nest of twigs and string, needs something more—elaborate. The problem, precisely, concerns the idea’s capacity to penetrate into people’s everyday thoughts and feelings, to connect discrete experiences that, when connected, make the logic of safe driving intuitive. If “don’t drink and drive” and “buckle your safety belt” scarcely prick the surface, can we yet sharpen them?

At the North Carolina State Fair, from October 12th to the 22nd, one can find an exhibit designed with just that intent: Safety City.

Safety City is, foremost, about community. Like a city, Safety City incorporates different communities. Functioning as a sort of traffic safety hub, it facilitates new interactions. NC Vision Zero, MADD, Safe Kids, BikeSafe, BeRailSafe, Watch for Me, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, and various law enforcement organizations all unite there, not to bore people with dry, moralizing speeches, but to demonstrate, tangibly, the meaning of traffic safety.

Put a boy in the Seat belt Convincer—he learns the meaning of prudence; give him a pair of alcohol impairment simulation goggles—he learns the meaning of temperance; show him the inside of a B.A.T. mobile—he learns the meaning of justice; call him to sign the Vision Zero pledge—he learns the meaning of fortitude. At Safety City, a boy can learn all these virtues good citizens display and—what’s most important for our goal—their relation to traffic safety.

As he grows and, eventually, learns to drive, he will connect new experiences with the ones he had at Safety City. Making those connections, he will naturally display the virtues he learned as a boy. Then, as he continues to grow, the idea will incubate in his mind. He will begin to consider it, advocate it, glorify it as we do—and, on that day, our goal will have been achieved. The Vision Zero community’s continuance will have been secured.

Sustain the idea! Come to Safety City!

 

Passenger Ethics: Sit By Not Idly

If you employ a chauffeur, then you’ve fairly bought the privilege to criticize his performance as harshly as you please. But, the rest of us ride gratis, so we bite our tongues. Occasionally, we witness our friends, family members, co-workers, and classmates behaving irresponsibly behind the wheel. We feel with them; no one appreciates a back-seat driver. They aren’t our chauffeurs, and we can’t very well treat them like servants, can we? To criticize an equal’s every little fault would be—indecent.

And, anyway, their errors are mostly forgivable. They pass on the right, they merge across a solid white line, they devote both hands to fiddling with their cellphones while “steering” with their knees…No, wait! Stop! That’s super-dangerous! Even riding with friends, family, members, co-workers, and classmates, situations like the latter do arise that positively demand criticism. Where is the line? It’s probably closer to everyday life than most would suppose.

Plenty of facts and statistics support passengers intervening to dissuade drivers from behaving irresponsibly behind the wheel. For example, “distracted driving” caused 3,459 deaths in 2015. Of all those who died in automobile crashes that same year, 48% were not wearing their seat belts. The truth is plain enough: If we would speak up, we’d have no lack of things to say.

None of this evidence is really relevant to the question, though, is it? We all know how dangerous distracted driving is. We all know we should wear our seat belts. We all know we should obey the rules of the road. Like smoking in the presence of a baby, the question is really one of the limits of propriety: How serious an offense should one permit before protesting? How much smoke is it worth exposing a baby to before enough is enough, and any decent person would break that silence? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers some good guidelines for passengers in a variety of situations and—what’s most helpful—relationships to the driver. This graphic also suggests a few polite ways passengers can encourage safer driving, as does this one aimed specifically at teenagers.

The bottom line is this, though: the limits of propriety exist not to hinder and confuse but to assist living-together. If you know something makes living-together more difficult, like behaving irresponsibly behind the wheel, is it not right and proper to speak up? Even as passengers, we have that power—and no rational system of ethics denies the exercise of power to those who would use it justly. On the contrary, all of the best ones insist on it.


NC Vision Zero aims to empower North Carolina’s passengers. You can assist in their mission—and win an enviable prize to boot—by participating in the Empowered Passenger Video Contest. For more information, look up ncvisionzero.org/empoweredpassenger.

Empowered Passenger Contest Poster
Contest Poster