Following the death of a six year old girl in Gisborne in 2017, a New Zealand coroner has advised against allowing children to walk to school without adult supervision.
Carla Neems was just a few weeks away from her seventh birthday when, after scootering 450 metres home from school (and most of the way with older children), she tragically walked into the path of a rubbish truck which was momentarily parked halfway across her home’s driveway.
As well as recommending better signage and the possibility of proximity alarms for rubbish trucks, the coroner said that there was parental responsibility to ensure that Carla was accompanied from the school by an adult.
“I do not accept that it was acceptable for Carla to go to and from school in the care of her older siblings – and part of the way home alone. The siblings were too young to be vested with that responsibility. Sadly the confidence that Mr and Mrs Neems had about Carla’s road safety was misplaced and flies in the face of what happened,” Coroner Tim Scott, said.
According to Safekids Aotearoa, more than five child pedestrians are killed each year, more than 100 are hospitalised, and children aged five to nine years old are most at risk.
The coroner’s words have been widely condemned as being harsh, following what many view as a tragic accident.
Should we be walking our kids to and from school?
New Zealand law states that it is illegal to leave a child alone under the age of 14 years without reasonable provision for their care. However, the term “reasonable provision” leaves a lot to parent’s interpretation and individual circumstances – for example, the maturity level of the child and the length of time without supervision. Deciding at what age a child should be safe to walk to school would need to take into account the child’s understanding of road safety, the distance to school, as well as traffic levels, etc.
So should we be escorting our kids every step to and from school until they’re 14? Or do we just have to accept that we can’t always control our child’s surroundings – we can only provide them with guidance and the knowledge required to make safer decisions?
Tips for child pedestrian safety
- Plan the safest route possible and walk through it with your child several times.
- If there is a footpath, use it.
- Kids should walk as far away from the roadside as possible.
- If there is no path, walk on the grass verge and face oncoming traffic.
- Avoid distractions such as smartphones and headphones.
- Beware of cars entering and exiting driveways.
- It is harder for drivers of large vehicles to see small children so keep well away.
- When crossing the road, choose to use a pedestrian crossing. Always wait to ensure that cars have stopped before entering the pedestrian crossing.
- If there is no designated crossing, stand one step away from the edge of the road, look in all directions for traffic and listen. When the road is clear, walk briskly across, checking for traffic.
- Avoid crossing between parked cars but if there is no choice always choose cars without drivers in them and stand at the front of the car by the headlight nearest the road. Look and listen for traffic. When the road is clear, cross briskly, looking each way for traffic.
Written by Julie Scanlon
Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire.
Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”