As our population has grown, the schools have become crowded and the schoolyards have started to overflow with active children. Some of our largest schools have been allowed to take over their streets for play space, blocking access to cars during the school day. The problem with this is that the children become accustomed to playing in the street. Even when cars are allowed to cautiously pass the barrier to reach houses on the block of the school, many boys have no fear or respect for the danger of being in the street. They run around in the street and tease the driver of the car and even push each other in its path, and throw things at the cars.
When these children go home, they play on the sidewalk in front of their homes and will often run out into the street during a game. When playing hide and seek, they will go to the street side of a parked car to crouch down and hide. They often do not hesitate to chase a ball or ride a bike into the street. They are not careful about cars backing out of driveways and cars backing into parking spots. They dart out between cars never giving the drivers a chance to see them before they are in the path of their vehicle.
Even adults do not respect the danger of the streets. One spring evening I was driving down a side street near my home when a 3-year-old on a tricycle came flying out of a driveway into the path of my minivan. Although I was going slowly I had to stand on my brake, narrowly avoiding hitting the child and his little vehicle. I immediately pulled over and took the child out of the street and returned him to his 7-year-old sister who was “watching” him as she and her friends played. We all went upstairs to their mother who was inside cooking dinner. I told the mother, “Two minutes ago I almost had my life ruined, your life ruined, this little boy’s life ruined and his sister’s life ruined. “ Had I, G-d forbids, not stopped in time who would have been to blame? The little seven-year-old girl? Me? The three-year-old? Maybe all of us, but primarily you, for not taking responsibility for his safety!”
All drivers know how difficult it is to avoid an accident when the car must stop unexpectedly. A child or a parent who does not drive might not realize how dangerous a moving car can be. Many of our school-age children are taken everywhere in a car or bus and do not have the walking experience to learn the dangers of the streets and how to cross intersections safely. It is time we go back to basics and teach ourselves and our children about street safety.
Infants are often placed in grave danger as they are pushed in a stroller into the street in front of their mothers. The stroller should not leave the sidewalk until all the oncoming traffic has stopped and it is safe to cross. Waiting in the “gutter” for a break in the traffic and then dashing out into the street with the stroller leading the way is fraught with danger. Young mothers should remember that street signs and streetlights must be obeyed. It may take longer to get where they are going but it is essential to cross only when it is safe. This also means looking both ways, even on a one-way street, and noticing any cars signaling that they intend to turn. There is never an excuse to push a stroller out into the street from between two parked cars. It is not their own life they are risking, it is the life of the child in the stroller.
Crossing the street with little ones
Toddlers and young children should hold an adult’s hand whenever crossing the street. The adult should always demonstrate looking both ways and watching for the walk sign. There should always be enough time allowed for the toddler's little legs to get across safely. They cannot walk as quickly as an adult. If the toddler must hold on to the handle of the stroller instead of holding an adult’s hand he should walk very close to the adult to allow control of impulsive behavior until they have reached safety.
Toddlers are impulsive and unpredictable. They always need adult supervision, especially when they are outside. (We would never leave diamonds outside in the care of a seven-year-old child. Toddlers are worth much more!)
School-age children should be shown how to have a healthy respect for the dangers of the street. They must learn that a car can come down any street at any time. They must be careful. Certain rules always apply:
1) Always cross at corners.
2) Always obey traffic signs.
3) Always look both ways every time you enter the street and wait until there are no cars coming from either direction.
4) At an intersection look for cars that are signaling that they intend to turn.
5) Be extra careful when it is raining, since it is harder to see cars coming and harder to see people. It is also much harder to stop a car.
6) Never enter the street from between two parked cars.
7) Never play in the street unless it is closed to traffic and an adult is supervising.
8) “Let the ball roll” until there are no cars in sight.
9) If there is traffic and the intersection is hard to cross, ask an adult to help you cross to the other side.
10) If you are playing in a street that is closed off and you see a car coming, get onto the sidewalk that is nearest to you.
11) Never throw anything at a car.
These rules, which should be second nature to all children, must be reinforced in school. They should be taught in preschool and enforced by the teachers and administrators. If children are found doing dangerous things like throwing things at cars or running in front of cars when they come down the street near the school they should be strictly disciplined.
It might be a good idea for ambulance volunteers to go into the schools and do a street safety program to help emphasize the importance of these rules.
All adults must remember that we teach by example. We all must obey these basic rules ourselves! It is our responsibility to educate the children about safety. We must not rely on miracles to avoid accidents and injury every day. G-d in His mercy protects foolish people and children, but we still must do our best to keep everyone safe.