The benefits of walking are enormous. But the street can be a dangerous place, too, especially for kids.
Between 2001 and 2010, 8,651 children and teens died from pedestrian injuries. And 579,621 wound up in the emergency room. The solution? It's not driving your offspring to school. You want them to walk.
Instead, you might think about encouraging your community to add speed bumps, conspicuous stop signs, better lighting, and high-visibility crosswalks. A new study in the journal Pediatrics found 33 percent fewer injuries in areas that got federal money for these simple safety improvements.
To find out what you can do to increase the odds that your kids and grandkids can remain unscathed while walking to school, Family Goes Strong talked with epidemiologist Charles DiMaggio, an associate professor at Columbia University and lead author of the new study. Excerpts:
Why should communities make safe routes to school a priority?
Twenty-five percent of all motor vehicle deaths in kids [from birth to age 19] are from pedestrian injuries, and that's compared to 5 to 10 percent for adults. Kids shouldn't be hurt that way. Pedestrian injuries are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury in the United States. They account for about half of all injury-related pediatric hospital admissions to the U.S. every day.
The number of kids who are injured has been decreasing,
The number and severity of injuries has been going down. The reason that they're going down is that kids are less likely to walk. That brings us to the safe-routes-to-school program. It's good for kids to get out. It's good for kids to be active. It's good for kids to exercise. Otherwise, we have other problems, like pediatric obesity.
So how can parents and grandparents get their communities to pay more attention to safe routes to school?
These grassroots efforts actually work. The first program in the U.S. was in the Bronx, in New York City, and came from concerned parents who wanted to have options to have their kids get to and from school safely. The program we evaluated was based on federal efforts in 2005, with $219 million to safe-routes-to-school programs, and eventually that number went up to a bit over $1 billion over five years.
Why is that money well spent?
It's money well spent because apparently — based on previous research and based on this study — it works. You can't necessarily say that for a lot of programs. No kid walks away from a pedestrian injury unscathed. The injuries themselves affect the whole family. Somewhere around a quarter of kids who've had a pedestrian injury will have some sort of lingering effect, either mental or physical, that will last for many years. Basically, the deaths are just the tip of the iceberg.
The programs also help the elderly, right?
We didn't look at that specifically, although we will. This is one of those areas where you really can serve both. With seniors getting hit by cars, the consequences are generally much more severe. Kids are at increased risk just because of the way they behave. Seniors that get hit have much more severe injuries.
Injuries are worst with bigger vehicles, right?
Absolutely. That's something I and a number of my colleagues looked at a number of years ago. It has to do with the weight of the larger vehicles. It has to do with the visibility. An SUV is much more unforgiving. Basically, you have twice the risk of mortality if a kid is hit by an SUV.
To see ways you can help your community promote personal safety, prevent pedestrian injury, develop safe routes to school and increase physical activity, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics' site.
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