As I mentioned in my last post, there are three main hazards that, I believe, justify fencing playgrounds for toddlers and preschoolers: traffic, water, and dogs. Today I’m going to talk about traffic.
From what I can gather there are no statistics available (in New Zealand or elsewhere) that quantify how often small children might be at risk from traffic near playgrounds – nobody seems to be counting incidences where a child might suddenly run out near a road, and I can’t see any way that data like that could be gathered, given that it would require parents actually reporting near-misses. And the situation will be similar when I write about dogs, and water.
In the absence of direct data, I’ve attempted to research what kind of impact traffic accidents have on young children in general. I figure that, if something is a cause for concern in general terms, it is also a cause for concern in the context of where we put playgrounds.
The Ministry of Transport publishes ‘Crash Factsheets’ regarding pedestrian injuries, with the most recent factsheet dating from November 2013. All of the following images are from that factsheet.
The findings are mixed. It’s great news that the number of pedestrian fatalities overall has declined from 1995 to 2012, as shown below:
However, 33 pedestrians were killed in 2012, which is obviously 33 too many. And a breakdown of the age brackets of pedestrians injured or killed from 2007 to 2012 shows that children are disproportionately affected:
The following graph shows the percentage number of accidents correlated to the road types:
In my opinion this is a reminder that major urban roads are undoubtedly the most dangerous roads for pedestrians, but minor urban roads are also the location of plenty of accidents. Therefore, we would be foolish to be complacent about unfenced playgrounds being near minor roads, as it’s clear that the risk from traffic exists wherever cars can travel. And, obviously, it should be taken as read that all that playgrounds near major roads are fenced.
This graph shows the ten most common pedestrian actions leading to a fatal accident, for both children and adults:
‘Pedestrian unsupervised child’ could be children playing on the street in front of their house, but it certainly could be children running out from a park or a playground. And ‘stepping out from behind parked vehicle’ would seem to be particularly relevant for younger – shorter – children, who are much more difficult to spot when you’re driving past.
Plunket has also acknowledged the danger that cars present to young children, and very clearly explains why traffic is of particular concern to this demographic:
Roads and driveways are very dangerous places for children. Five children are killed on roads and driveways each year. Teach yourself and your child road safety tips to keep them safe. Always stay with your child when they’re on the road, footpath or driveway.
Most children who are hurt or killed by a vehicle are around 2 years old. Young children don’t understand danger on the road because they:
- they’re small, and the driver can’t see them behind or in front of their vehicle
- don’t see and hear things the way adults do
- don’t have good peripheral vision yet as their eyesight is not well developed
- are easily distracted by noises or things such as animals
- are short in height and so can’t see over or around things easily
- can’t judge safe distances easily, and so may make poor decisions about crossing the road
- may forget road safety rules if something unexpected happens, like their ball bouncing onto the road.
I think those bullet points provided by Plunket perfectly sum up why fenced playgrounds are essential for toddlers and preschoolers.
Plunket also makes a series of recommendations to help parents and caregivers keep young children safe from cars, including these two suggestions:
- Build a fence between the driveway and your child’s play area—particularly if you share the driveway with a neighbour.
- Separate play areas from driveways.
It’s quite frustrating that Plunket hasn’t followed this sensible train of thought to its logical conclusion and considered the risk presented by having unfenced playgrounds near roads. I’m hoping that they can be persuaded to make an official statement along those lines in due course.
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