As Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says, we’re facing a crisis on our roadways. The death rate of children younger than 15 has more than doubled since 2018, from 5.8% to 11.9%, and that’s just for pedestrian deaths related to speeding, not for other scenarios, like driveway collisions involving SUVs, which are also on the rise.
“We’ve created terrible conditions for kids to walk,” says Kelcie Ralph, associate professor in urban planning at Rutgers University. “I’m sure screens are part of the story. But we’ve created an inhospitable place.”
It’s not a fun or healthy way to raise a human being, but it can feel necessary in order to keep them alive.
Since the 1970s, child traffic deaths have been declining slowly and steadily. But for decades — as far back as the 1940s, some scholars estimate — time spent outside by children has also been declining and just as steadily. It makes sense: Before cars began to take over in the 1920s, city streets were considered the right of pedestrians, children at play, and others. But that changed when, after deaths skyrocketed and sparked public outcry along with effective anti-car activism, the automobile industry doubled down and aggressively lobbied the government to target pedestrians, not drivers. To this day, car crashes are almost always blamed on the pedestrian or bicyclist, even when it’s a child. Their campaign worked.
A century later, Ralph sums up what she sees in the research: “Fewer children are dying as pedestrians because of the absence of children on our streets.”
If you’re a parent, you personally know what she’s talking about. And you likely have friends with kids who know, too. You’re anxious to let your kid go outside by themselves, even to the bus stop and especially if they’re really young. You don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but the closer they are to traffic, the more nervous and controlling you find yourself becoming. It’s not a fun or healthy way to raise a human being, but it can feel necessary in order to keep them alive.