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Researchers to parents: Be on high alert when kids are crossing parking lots

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Photo: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Birmingham, AL — Parents and caregivers need to keep a close eye on kids in parking lots to prevent injuries, researchers at the University of Birmingham at Alabama say after their observational study revealed frequent unsafe behaviors.

For the study, the researchers watched 124 pairs of adults and children (2 to 10 years old) in the fall of 2017 outside six family/community recreational centers in the Birmingham area. They chose parking lots that required navigating at least one area of moving traffic.

The results: More than two-thirds (67%) of the children were unsupervised at some point between their parked vehicles and the buildings’ entrances. Nearly 9 out of 10 were not within the adult’s reach, and about half exited the vehicle before the adult.

The consequences could prove deadly, the researchers noted. A 2007 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report (the most recent data available) states that children 14 and younger suffered an estimated 205 fatalities and 5,000 injuries from collisions with vehicles in nontraffic locations such as parking lots and driveways.

In an Aug. 2 press release, Jenni Rouse, study co-author and a psychology doctoral student at UAB, offers several safety recommendations:

  • Hold your child’s hand in parking lots.
  • Make sure children stay in the car until an adult opens the door.
  • Teach them pedestrian safety practices, such as looking both ways for traffic.
  • Be sure they are aware of moving vehicles, including those backing up.
  • Instruct them to walk – not run – in parking lots, and avoid horseplay.
  • Use the sidewalk when available.
  • Have children exit the vehicle from the passenger side when being dropped off.
  • Reduce distractions from cellphones or conversations.

Rouse said people may believe the risks are low in parking lots because vehicles are moving slower or the location may be familiar. “As adult supervisors, we are responsible for teaching children basic pedestrian safety practices and leading by example,” she added. “By addressing the concerns of pedestrian safety with children in parking lots, we can help cut down on the number of injuries presented in emergency departments and hopefully save a child’s life.”

The study was published online July 22 in the Journal of Safety Research.