Redefining the Child Pedestrian Safety Paradigm

Child pedestrian deaths have dropped significantly since averaging over 1,000 per year in the early 1980s to now fewer than 400 each year (Percer 2009). Much of the focus has been on school zone safety, and past research suggests that when resources are focused on the areas around schools, effective gains in child safety can be made (Clifton and Kreamer-Fults 2007). Given such promising statistics, it seems like there have been great strides made towards solving this problem. However, it is important to note that kids seem to be walking and bicycling much less now than they used to. For instance, the percent of children walking to school dropped from almost 50% in 1969 to 13% forty years later (PBIC 2012). While parental perceptions of risks such as kidnappings have played into this monumental shift, traffic safety issues remain a primary impediment to children’s independently walking and biking (Kerr et al. 2006, Veitch et al. 2006, Valentine 1997). It is also important to realize that while there may not be as many deaths of child pedestrians or bicyclists, childhood fatalities in the transportation system remain a major problem. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for individuals from the age of 4 through the age of 24 in the U.S. (CDC 2002). Moreover,there has been no equitable solution to the walking and bicycling safety problem (Loukaitou-Sideris and Sideris 2009). Children that walk to school in low income areas are at a much higher risk of severe injury or death than children that walk to school in higher income areas (Clifton and Kreamer-Fults 2007). This may be due to several reasons such as: lower levels of access to motor vehicles and a higher 2 need to walk or bike; lower levels of supervision and parental involvement; or differences in the walkability and safety of the built environment. Nevertheless, childhood walking and bicycling seems to have many benefits. In terms of health beyond road safety, there is a strong relationship between low physical activity levels and outcomes such as obesity and diabetes (Sallis and Glanz 2006, Marshall, Piatkowski, and Garrick 2015, Rahman, Cushing, and Jackson 2011, Fox 2004). Other studies suggest that kids that walk or bicycle to school perform better, both academically and behaviorally, are more independent, and have higher levels of overall happiness (Louv 2005, UK Department of Transport 2006). For all these reasons, there is a renewed interest in promoting childhood walking and bicycling, and active transportation rates are finally starting to reverse their long downward trend (SRTS 2013). Portland, Oregon is an example of this success; driving to school rates are lower than ever while busing rates are also in decline (Anderson 2016). The problem, however, in most parts of the country is the manner in which transportation and land use systems have been built. Barriers in the environment – such as big roads with high traffic volumes and high traffic speeds, poor street connectivity, and dispersed land uses – severely inhibit a child’s ability to walk or bike (EPA 2003, Larsen, Buliung, and Faulkner 2013, CDC 2002). By encouraging walking and bicycling in such places, are kids actually put at more risk? These issues deserve a more thorough investigation. Currently, most resources are dedicated to promoting child active transportation on the Safe Routes to Schools program. Related to this, the first question addressed through this work is: has the child pedestrian safety problem around schools really been solved or was this problem solved by removing the majority of child pedestrians and bicyclists from the equation? Answering this question will require a rethinking of how child pedestrian and bicyclist exposure is measured and accounted for. As it currently stands, it is far too easy for ostensibly dangerous streets to be deemed safe due to the fact that they have scared away all the child pedestrians. While reducing the number of children walking might reduce the number of child pedestrian deaths, there are a multitude of benefits provided by having kids walk, while also likely increasing vehicle occupant fatalities. In other words, there has been a failure to get to the root of the problem, which has left a suboptimal solution. Once a method is devised for a better understanding of child pedestrian and bicyclist exposure, then there will be a search to answer the project team's second research question: are there other destinations with large concentrations of child pedestrian fatalities where resources should be focused on in addition to the traditional focus of schools? Other land uses that would deem important to children – such as playgrounds, parks, trails, and recreation centers – have not received anywhere near the same level of investment, nor scrutiny, as compared to schools. The project team's intent for this portion of the project is to better understand whether their current approach is justified or if there are other destinations demanding additional investment. With the benefits of having children independently walk and bike, and the tremendously poor safety records currently, there is a need to improve the situation. A comprehensive approach to this problem must include education efforts for child pedestrians and bicyclists. However, a better understanding of the problem itself and the role of the built environment in supporting or inhibiting safe active transportation for children is also required. This work aims to be a piece in the puzzle of the Vision Zero effort to help increase the safety and proclivity of childhood walking and bicycling


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $135571
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Research and Innovative Technology Administration

    Department of Transportation
    1200 New Jersey Avneue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Managing Organizations:

    Mountain-Plains Consortium

    North Dakota State University
    P.O. Box 6050, Department 2880
    Fargo, ND  United States  58108-6050
  • Project Managers:

    Kline, Robin

  • Performing Organizations:

    Dept. of Civil Engineering

    University of Colorado Denver
    Denver, CO  United States 
  • Principal Investigators:

    Marshall, Wesley

    Janson, Bruce

  • Start Date: 20160802
  • Expected Completion Date: 20190731
  • Actual Completion Date: 20190718
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program
  • Source Data: MPC-515

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01607623
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Mountain-Plains Consortium
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT13-G-UTC38
  • Files: UTC, RiP
  • Created Date: Aug 12 2016 1:27PM