Fellow motorists, please don't 'help' children cross the road. This is why

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

In the years I have spent behind the wheel of a car, I have lost count of the number of near misses I have seen as a result of well-meaning motorists waving children across roads.

I am talking about main roads, intersections and roundabouts without any pedestrian crossings. The children have stopped, whether on foot or on a bike, scooter or skateboard, and are waiting for a pause in traffic so they can cross the road safely.

While motorists who wave a child across the road are no doubt well-meaning, the simple act can endanger children's lives and has been implicated in a number of pedestrian accidents both here and overseas, as well as countless near misses.

In recent weeks I have seen two such near misses.

A journalist in the US wrote about his own near miss when a motorist continually waved him across the road. He wrote that he was unwilling to proceed because he could not see around the vehicle in question to ensure it was safe to cross.

It wasn't. Which he found out when another vehicle sped past, narrowly missing him.

Another pedestrian in the US died after a motorist waved her across the road before she was hit by a different vehicle.

And herein lies the problem. If you are a motorist who waves a child across the road, especially at a busy intersection, how can you be sure that every other motorist approaching the intersection from other directions has also seen the child and understands their intent to cross?

Not only does waving a child across a road give them a false sense of security that they are safe to cross when they might not be, it may lead to expectations that cars will always stop for them. 

It is also teaching children to ignore the road rules designed in part to keep them safe.

Then there is the question of when is a wave a wave?

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According to an article in the US, a bicycle rider was struck by a minivan after he thought she was waving him across the road when in fact she was using her hands to gesture to a child in the back seat of her vehicle.

Pedestrian Council of Australia of Australia chairman and chief executive Harold Scruby agrees well-meaning motorists are endangering children's lives when they wave them across the road.

Mr Scruby said just as you should never call a child from the other side of the road, motorists should never wave a child across a road.

He says drivers cannot be sure of the actions of other motorists, or protect a child they waved across a road from someone who, for instance, decides to overtake them.

"The line of sight is obstructed from the other vehicle and they cannot see a child crossing the road," he says.

"The child is looking at the person who is driving them across and will therefore not be looking [for other vehicles]."

He says the only way to ensure children make it safely across a road is for parents to accompany them while holding their hands at least until the age of 10.

"We have been delivering this message for 20 years now. We are coming up to our 20th National Walk Safely to School Day and the overriding message is until they are 10, they must always hold the hand of an adult when crossing the road," he said.

Children over the age of 10 will only learn the tools to safely cross roads if their parents have spent their child's early years teaching them through their actions.

"Leave the car at home, get out and walk your child to school. Hold their hands until they are 10," he said.

"When you cross a road you stop, you look, you listen and you think. Those four instructions are vital.

"Practice that routine with your children every time you are walking with them."