Just before I sat down to draft this I caught the odd light in my dining room caused by the reflection of the sun off the yellow neon of a police car on the other side of the hedge in front of my house. I live at the end of the village opposite a small school and so the police sometimes stop there to do a speed check. I’m glad they do. Almost exactly a year ago this happened in front of the school:
What you see there are the remains of a metal barrier and parts of a car. A car was driving along at just before 9 am when the driver looked in her rearview mirror and saw another car speeding around the corner towards her (in a 30 mph zone, in front of a school). She looked back to the road then heard an almighty crash and looked back in her rearview mirror to see the speeding car behind her had merged violently with the school gates. Pieces of this metal barrier were found on the roof of the school. The driver of that totalled car has since admitted that yes, they were speeding and yes, they lost control of the car.
Although this car accident happened at the time many parents and younger siblings would be leaving the school after morning drop off, walking past this barrier along this path, the accident very fortunately happened the week before school started.
The Highways Department told us these barriers are not designed to stop cars, but to prevent children from running out onto the road from the school entrance.
Speeding through this village has long been a concern of the residents, long before an elderly pedestrian was killed and long before a speeding lorry lost its load on a bend at the other end of the village (oh, actually there have been two lorries to do that) and long before the several accidents a year where people fly off the road into the old oak on the corner just outside my end of the village. But this incident rallied the school parents (have you ever seen an angry mob of school parents?) and they began to put real pressure on the Authority.
The school sits close to the middle of the village on the main road. Children come from both sides of the busy road to attend the school. But when we asked for a lollipop lady to help the children across, the Authority told us that this road was deemed too dangerous for a lollipop lady. It’s true. My friend forwarded me the email that says this. And so… it’s okay for school children to cross this road daily??
Repeated appeals to our local authority have been deflected. One of my favourite helpful tips from the Authority: ‘Put planters at the beginning of your village to make it more villagey so people know to slow down.‘ I live in the first house of the village at one end and we maintain that end of the village with mown grass, roses, daffodils and other flowers. It is true they are not in planters, but it is also true that this entrance (and the other) is very villagey looking.
If our Authority will not protect us we must focus instead on protecting ourselves. No, I don’t mean hiding in the birch trees with a pellet gun trying to shoot out tyres of speeding motorists. While I am intensely grateful to the police who stop there from time to time to offer up a surprise speed check, more needs to be done.
So how do we help the next generation live in a safer village? Help them make it a safer world. It’s not just about avoiding unsafe behaviour or staying out of the way of fast drivers; it’s about also learning that when our children grow up we expect them to be safe drivers.
Tips for improving road safety for everyone:
1. Kids copy us, so set a good example.
You already know what not to do, so I know it’s unnecessary to remind you that doing things like texting, speaking on the phone without a hands-free, smoking and eating all make it more difficult to A) concentrate on the road and B) operate the steering wheel, gear stick, turn signals etc. If kids grow up seeing their parents do these things in the car, of course they will assume it’s okay for them to do these things too.
Other things that might not be so obvious but that kids will pick up on are road rage and general driving behaviour (i.e. do you speed through villages? For shame!).
If you feel like emphasising the point, you could even say things like: ‘I meant to put the hands-free in the car, but I didn’t so I’m just going to pull over to answer that,’ or even ‘I meant to put the hands-free in the car, never mind I’ll call them back.‘
2. Explain your mistakes
We all make mistakes. I’ve gone faster than I meant to, I’ve shouted at other drivers, I’ve answered the phone without a handsfree. When I say ‘explain your mistakes’ I didn’t mean, ‘excuse your mistakes’.
If I do something I don’t want my daughter doing when she starts driving one day, I stop it immediately and tell her I really shouldn’t have done that because X. The reason is important. ‘I really shouldn’t have been driving that fast down this street because there’s no way I could have stopped in time if a dog or child suddenly ran out from between those parked cars. And can you imagine how awful, how very terrible it would be if I badly hurt or killed a pet or a child? Horrible to even think!’
Using yourself as an example shows them you are both brave enough to admit to mistakes, but smart enough to correct them.
3. Teach road language from the beginning
Road signs and markings are a form of communication, not just to drivers but to everyone. It is very relevant for someone to know that on this road the speed limit is 30 but on that road it’s 60 because if they’re cycling over to a friend’s house they can choose the best route based on this information, if they don’t already have an agreed plan with you.
Children will be better drivers if they already know the rules of the road by the time they begin driving lessons.
Children will also understand that roads (and traffic) are part of their world, not just things to ignore until such a time when they have to cross one.
4. A special point about cycling
Learning the rules of the road from an early age will also help children realise that bicycles must also follow the same rules as cars. This is vital. How many cyclists do you see disobeying the rules, jumping red lights, cutting through traffic?
I won’t tar everyone with the same brush. My family and I are all keen cyclists and we know a lot of people who are and we are all very careful about road rules. Not everyone is and not only do they give the rest of us a bad name, they also greatly endanger themselves. If a cyclist does not follow the rules of the road, they put themsleves in positions motor traffic doesn’t expect and so create a dangerous situation for everyone, but mostly themselves.
5. Reality check
While teaching children the rules of the road, you can also teach them that not all cars (or cyclists) follow those rules. Waiting until they can see and hear that the road is clear, whether they are crossing the middle of the road or at a designated crosswalk (even at a stoplight), is probably the most important part of road education.
Oh, and understanding they need to watch for all road users, not just motor vehicles, is really important. Those pesky cyclists that don’t follow the rules can zip quietly out of nowhere.
A quick Google search turns up a lot of useful websites such as Think! These offer a load of tips and further information about road safety.
You may have local campaigns if you live near dangerous roads. Getting involved in those even on an infrequent basis will help your children see that road safety is important. My daughter has been listening to us talking about the road through the village, the accidents that occur along it as a result of speeding (every accident was a result of speeding) and our frustration that the Authority hasn’t helped us at all. We have involved her in the discussions and she understands how important this is as an issue.
And the more people who join a campaign, the more effective it is in making a change–and making a safer world for your family.
8. Support school education
If children bring home information from school about road safety read through it with them, talk about it and practice it. The information schools use is designed to be fun as well as educational, so it may be one of the best ways to teach road safety to children.
9. Social stigma
Without being too goody-two shoes about it you can also point out bad behaviour of other people to your children. They will understand then that if they do something dangerous–jogging with headphones along the side of the road, cutting people up and speeding through town out of anger, jumping a red light on a bicycle, then they too will be noticed and criticised.
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Good road safety habits start with adults. If you do the right thing your children are more likely to do the right thing. And if you do the right thing you’re also helping to make the roads safer for all of us
Nothing could have helped a child who had been standing in the way of that school barrier when a careless driver hit it, but the careless driver could have been more careful. Ensuring that children learn to be alert around traffic, that they grow up learning good road safety habits from us, and making sure they’re safe drivers when they grow up will all go a long ways towards creating safer roads for everyone.
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