Addressing Safety

Being sure that the walk to school is as safe as possible is vital. There are several steps involved, including selecting the safest route, having an adequate number of adults and equipping participants with safety skills.

Selecting a safe route can be simple or complex depending on the distance and school location.

To pick a safe route, consider:

  • Where the group will walk.
    Choose sidewalks or paths wherever possible, even if that means the trip will take a little longer.
  • Where the group will cross streets.
    Minimize the number of street crossings.
    Avoid busy, high-speed or multi lane roads, wherever possible.
  • How drivers behave.
    Notice if they yield to walkers and drive at safe speeds. Some roads are more conducive to producing safer driver behavior.
  • How the neighborhood feels.
    Use a route that avoids potential problems like loose dogs, the presence of criminal activity such as gangs, vacant buildings or streets with poor lighting.

Forest Park Elementary School, Portland, OR

A law enforcement officer or local traffic engineer may also have helpful input regarding more complex routes. For more detailed guidance, see Resources: Route planning.

For adequate adult supervision, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:

  • One adult per three children for children ages 4 to 6.
  • One adult for six children for older elementary children ages 7 to 9.
  • Fewer adults may be necessary for children ages 10 and older.

Pedestrian safety skills should be reviewed or taught to adults and children.

Safe walking behaviors can be taught as a parent walks with a child or it may be included as an organized training. Regardless of how it is taught, children should know the following:

  1. Always look for cars.
    Drivers are supposed to obey the rules and watch for people walking. But you cannot count on them to always remember.
  2. Choose the safest routes to walk with the fewest and safest streets to cross. Avoid crossing busy or high-speed roads whenever possible.
  3. Walk along the street safely. This means:
    • Use sidewalks or paths.
    • If there are no sidewalks or paths, walk as far from the cars as possible and face traffic.
    • Watch for cars turning or pulling out of driveways.
  4. Cross at signalized intersections whenever possible.
    • Obey traffic signs and signals.
    • Remember that just because it is your turn to cross does not mean that it is safe to cross. Do not trust that cars will obey the rules or that turning cars will see you.
    • Look for yourself to see if cars are coming. Look left, right and left and then behind you and in front of you for turning cars.
    • Walk, don't run across the street.
  5. If you must cross the street at mid block:
    • Stop at the curb and look left, right and left again for traffic.
    • Wait until no traffic is coming and begin crossing. Keep looking for traffic until you have finished crossing.
  6. If you must cross between parked cars:
    • Stop at the curb and check to see if the cars are running or if anyone is in the driver seat.
    • If safe, cross to the edge of the parked cars, and look left, right and left again before crossing.