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During Back to School Season, Let's Make Sure All Cries are Good Ones

Pedestrian safety

I'll never forget the first day of kindergarten for my oldest daughter, Jenny. Sure, summer was coming to an end, but it felt like the beginning of something really special. A new chapter in my daughter's life.

Jenny and I had prepared with the first of many back to school shopping sprees. She was all set with new school supplies, her first backpack and, of course, the perfect fall outfit.

After breakfast, we took a picture to remember the day, drove Jenny to school and walked her to class. She was so excited. I gave her a big hug goodbye then slowly walked back to the car, opened the door, got in and promptly started crying. I wish I could say that first day of school got easier with my other two children, Chris and Ally. But each time, I was right back in that car having a good cry.

So if you're anything like me, no matter what grade your child is in, please know that I'm sending you a big hug. And all I ask in return is that when you talk to your children about everything that goes with their return to school, from teachers to friends to homework, please also talk to them about how to walk there safely. This goes double for those of you with teenagers, since they are now the most at-risk youth for pedestrian injuries, according to a new study, "Walking Safely, A Report to the Nation," released today by Safe Kids Worldwide and FedEx.

According to the study, which examines 15-year trends in child pedestrian injuries and deaths in the U.S., injuries among 16-19 year olds increased 25 percent over the previous five years. And today, 14-19 year olds account for 50 percent of child pedestrian injuries, which unfortunately makes sense when you consider that teen injuries appear to correlate with the increase in cell phone use, for both pedestrians and drivers. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, in 2004, 45 percent of 12-17 year olds owned cell phones. In 2009, that number jumped to 75 percent.

The report also shows that while walking safety has improved overall for children since 1995, there are still a staggering number of children hit by cars. In fact, More than 61 children are injured every day severely enough to seek medical attention. More than 500 children are killed every year.

And it's not just teenagers who are at risk. Our nation's youngest walkers are especially vulnerable, as their exuberance in their new mobility knows no bounds. Parents and caregivers have to be especially vigilant around roadways. Deaths among new walkers, ages 1-2, are second only to teenagers.

Overall, there is good news. According to the study, child pedestrian deaths and injuries have been cut in half since 1995. Progress is particularly evident among younger kids, where education and school zone improvement programs like the Walk This Way initiative, created with support from FedEx to bring national and local attention to pedestrian safety issues, have been in effect for the past 13 years.

The other good news is that these injuries are completely preventable, and since more children are hit by cars in September than any other month, now is the perfect time to get the message out. Just a simple conversation or practicing the walk to school with younger kids can ensure that when back to school comes, no parent is crying for the wrong reasons.

Here are a few more tips to share with your kids:

  • Distraction among drivers is at an all-time high today, so try to make eye contact with the driver before you step into the road
  • If you need to use your phone, stop walking
  • Remove headphones when crossing the street
  • It's always best to walk on sidewalks or paths. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible.
  • Make sure younger kids cross the street with an adult, and since walking injuries happen mid-block or some place other than intersections, whenever possible, cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks.
  • Have your young kids practice looking left, right and left again before crossing the street, and keep looking and listening while crossing.
  • For drivers, slow down and be especially alert in residential neighborhoods and school zones, before and after school hours, and remember, using cell phones, even hands-free, makes it harder to be alert to walkers who may also be distracted on cell phones.