As a teenager, my parents took us on vacation to Mackinac Island, a resort island in Lake Huron that has a ban on motor vehicles. Without a driver’s license myself, I was hardly inconvenienced by this prohibition, but dragging my suitcase by foot and hurling it onto a horse carriage, I was skeptical about a week without cars. As we explored the island on bikes though, it was refreshing not to look over our shoulders for cars constantly. And riding up a hill on horseback was way more fun than the backseat of my mom’s station wagon. Yet as we shopped around the downtown area and zig-zagged down the street without a car in sight, I still stopped to look both ways out of habit.
As we near the papal visit in Philadelphia and the driving and parking restrictions that come along with that, I am reminded of what it is like to live in a city without motor vehicles. There is something refreshing about knowing that we can’t use our car this weekend and that we will be exploring by foot, staying close to home, and getting back to basics. No fancy outings, just home-cooked meals and playing at the park with friends. A weekend with the 1800’s charm of Mackinac Island.
Having the streets clear of cars may seem like a good opportunity for kids to play in the streets and I imagine that there will be some block parties, t-ball games, and reckless bike riding. Anytime we walk or play in the street at a similar event, whether street fair, block party, or snow day, I remind my kids that this day or event is different and that we wouldn’t usually do this. These moments stand in stark contrast to the usual rules we have for safely walking and crossing streets in the city and it is important that the kids understand the difference.
Why is it so important that I talk to my kids about safely crossing streets when there aren’t cars around?
Traffic safety needs to be reinforced at every opportunity. In addition to the usual mantra of stop and look both ways, there are a few other traffic rules that we abide by:
– stop at EVERY corner. In Philadelphia, there are many tiny streets and alleys that barely look like cars could fit down them. While these roads may be closed to vehicles, I don’t expect my children to make this distinction. A road, is a road. They stop and look for cars at every corner they come across.
– wait for an adult to cross. While my children know the rules of how to cross a street and sometimes have the liberty to run or ride ahead of the slower moving adults, they know that they do not cross the street without an adult escort.
– once you start crossing the street, you don’t stop. A shoe falls off, forgo it. Don’t stop walking or pedaling until you reach the opposite curb.
– if you are on wheels, wear a helmet. Whether bike, trike, scooter, or skateboard, if there are wheels beneath their feet a helmet is required on their heads.
– the car doesn’t move until we are ALL buckled up. While this isn’t a pedestrian rule, it may be the most important traffic safety rule of all. Although it seems as if it would be impossible to forget to buckle up your child, sometimes getting everyone into the car can be hectic and things can be forgotten. So my kids know that if they aren’t yet buckled in and they think the car is going to move, they need to call out that they aren’t buckled up yet. Checks and balances.
The upcoming papal visit and Halloween both offer ample opportunities for reinforcing traffic safety rules and modeling safe practices for young children. For more information on this topic: NHTSA, Car Seat Lady, Safe Kids Worldwide.
[All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.]