Busy roads and lively, impulsive children are a dangerous mix. There’s always going to be a level of anxiety when you’re negotiating a small child along crowded pavements and through heavy traffic. We asked road safety expert Richard Powell* how to keep the experience as safe and stress-free as possible.
The UK has some of the safest roads in the world, with annual traffic accidents and fatality rates remaining lower than most of its European counterparts. But it’s never too early to start educating children on the importance of road safety. Preparing them to be safe on the road will allow them to build confidence and learn responsible behaviours so that when they are old enough to navigate around roads by themselves, you will have peace of mind that they are safe to do so.
On the pavement
Walking along a pavement is the foundation for building your child’s understanding and confidence around roads, so it’s a great way to start teaching children about different aspects of road safety. Depending on their age, a child may not know the boundaries between the road and pedestrian zones, so it’s important that they can make this distinction in order to understand which zones are safe to walk on.
Children should be reminded of where the pavement ends and where the road starts, so explain the importance of recognising kerbs and road lines, and what they mean about where it is safe to walk. Prompting children to point out the boundaries of the pavement will instil in them a recognition of designated pedestrian zones. From this, children should learn to stop when reaching the end of the kerb, before making any further decisions.
When walking along a pavement, you should hold your child’s hand and be positioned between them and the road, so that they are on the far side of the pavement. Holding their hand should also stop them from running off – if your child is especially active and you are anxious, you could use reins (though many parents aren’t keen on them) or strap them into a pushchair.
Let your child explore and ask questions. Encourage children to interact with their surroundings, spotting hidden entrances and driveways that cross the pavement, as well as any other potential hazards. They will quickly understand what to look out for when walking by a road and spotting danger will come naturally to them.
When walking along a pavement, you should hold your child’s hand and be positioned between them and the road, so that they are on the far side of the pavement.
Crossing the road
When the time comes, you will want to teach your child about how to
cross a road safely. Before you cross a road with them, they should
understand the reasoning behind the decision to cross at a certain time
and at a specific point along the road.
Children often mimic adult behaviour, so you should always set a good
example when navigating around roads with them. Choose a safe place to
cross and explain why it is safe.
Then encourage your child to help you decide an appropriate time and
place to cross, giving them feedback on their choices. You will want to
explain that the safest place to cross will be at a pedestrian crossing
(but even then there are certain dangers to look out for, see below).
The first step is to reach the kerb and stop. Here, explain that you
need to check the road is clear before crossing, by looking
right-left-right and then listening for any vehicles. You should explain
to them that they should cross only when they can see far up the road –
for example, crossing before a bend will severely limit the visibility
of vehicles that are about to drive past.
When you have assessed everything and you’re confident that it’s safe
to cross, walk in a straight line across the road, still looking and
listening out for traffic.
Whilst pedestrian crossings offer more security, there are still
dangers that you should remember and consider every time you use one.
First, children should understand the dynamic of a pedestrian
crossing: it is only safe to cross once there is no traffic coming from
either direction. Just the same as when walking across a road without a
crossing, it is vital to stop, look, and listen – being aware of
vehicles that don’t make as much sound, like bicycles.
When there is a road island in the middle of the crossing, each half
of the crossing should be treated in the same way – stopping, looking,
and listening before each half of the crossing.
If you are at a zebra crossing and a vehicle has stopped to let you
cross, you should still be aware of any other lanes of traffic and
remind your child to check that there are no other vehicles crossing
before attempting to cross yourself.
At a light-operated crossing, children should understand what to look
out for: that they should only think about crossing when the green man
is lit, and they should always check that the way is safe to do so.
If you are at a zebra crossing and a vehicle has stopped to let you cross, you should still be aware of any other lanes of traffic and remind your child to check that there are no other vehicles crossing before attempting to cross yourself.
Is it safe to cross?
It’s really important for children to understand where it is not safe
to cross, and why. Ask your child to explain why a certain point in the
road may not be safe to cross, reinforcing the lesson and helping them
to clearly understand the designated safe areas.
Instil a good attitude around the road; your child needs to be aware
and to concentrate. Confidence will come naturally with time, and the
more a child understands the dangers of the road, the safer their
approach will be.
My child was involved in a road traffic accident
Even if you’ve taken the necessary safety precautions, accidents can
happen. If your child has been involved in a road traffic accident, you
should first ensure that they receive the appropriate medical care.
After a road traffic accident, there should be an exchange of contact
information between the parties involved, as well as some notes
detailing the accident – first and foremost, where and when it happened,
and details of any witnesses. The accident should also be reported to
If your child was involved in an accident on the road and it wasn’t
their fault, they may be entitled to claim compensation. Detailing the
accident and retaining contact information will be vital to help you
with this process.
Successfully claiming compensation will help to pay for any medical
treatment incurred by the accident, and any medical equipment needed for
your child’s recovery. If you wish to claim compensation following a
road traffic accident, do seek guidance from solicitors who are
experienced in personal injury, to give you the best chance of making a
• Richard Powell is Head of Personal Injury at leading UK law
firm JMW Solicitors, the UK’s leading law firms. JMW is recognised as a
Legal 500: Top Tier Firm for 2022 and endeavours to provide useful
legal advice across the globe.