Why kids get hit by cars

school.xing2Getting hit by a car is the third leading cause of death for kids 5- to 9-years-old, and kids up to age 15 make up a disproportionate number of pedestrian casualties worldwide. It’s not hard to think of reasons for this scary statistic: Children are easily distracted and don’t always pay attention, and they are also smaller, so they’re more likely to sustain fatal injuries when they are hit. But there may be another, even more basic, reason for this childhood peril: Kids simply don’t see the cars coming.

The ability to see and avoid looming objects is a fundamental skill, crucial to survival not only for humans but for most animals. We take it for granted because we do it automatically, but it’s actually a complex skill, requiring a rapid calculation of size and distance and velocity. Add to this the fact that we pedestrians are also in motion, and must figure in our own walking speed, and it’s no surprise that even adults get clipped sometimes. New evidence is now showing that kids’ perceptual abilities are slow to develop, making them less adept at this crucial calculation.

Psychological scientist John Wann and his colleagues at the University of London ran a laboratory simulation of regular street crossing in order to compare the perceptual skills of adults with those of children of various ages. In this realistic simulation, a car approached on a roadway, sometimes varying in size and speed; sometimes the subjects saw the car directly in front of them, and other times off to the side a bit, and they reported whether the image of the car expanded or stayed the same. The scientists also calculated the subjects’ walking speed, and factored their movement into a calculation of their perception of the approaching car’s looming threat.

school.xingThey found a clear developmental pattern in perception of the looming vehicles. As reported on-line in the journal Psychological Science, the kids showed clear improvement in their acuity with age, but even the older children did not match the adults in their ability to detect an automobile’s approach, suggesting that the neural mechanisms for this skill remain undeveloped. Paradoxically, faster moving cars appear to loom less than slow moving cars, creating a dangerous illusion that speedy cars are not approaching. Indeed, the scientists determined that children could not reliably detect a car approaching at speeds higher than 20 miles per hour. What’s more, the kids’ perception of a car’s approach was worse if the car was even slightly off to the side—a realistic condition for typical road crossing—or if they themselves were in motion, as they likely would be.

Driving 20 miles per hour is really slow. Try it sometime. But it’s typically the speed we’re supposed to drive in school zones, and there are many other locations—residential areas, for example—where kids are also vulnerable. These new findings fit with evidence that kids are three times as likely to get hit by a car when traffic speed exceeds 25 miles an hour, and now we know why. Not only do speedy drivers need more reaction time, now it appears that young pedestrians simply can’t see the cars coming in the first place. It can be a deadly combination.

Wray Herbert’s book, On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits, has been published by Crown. Excerpts from his two blogs—“Full Frontal Psychology” and “We’re Only Human”—appear regularly in Scientific American Mind and in The Huffington Post.


You forgot to mention, that no matter which way you slice it, ALL pedestrians/bicyclists have the right of way. The driver should always be held responsible for hitting someone. If studies show that kids have slower reaction times, it does not matter. Too many children are hit and killed (or injured) by cars. NO! Not by cars, that is the equivalent of saying that guns kill people. Children are being killed by PEOPLE Driving Cars. It is unacceptable. When we acquire a driver’s license, we are saying that we will take responsibility for our actions behind the wheel.

There is no excuse good enough to give to a parent or family member, and ‘she’s small and has bad reaction times’ is not a good enough one. My niece was killed by a driver, not a car. The car was just the object used to kill her. I may be a little biased, but this one hits close to home. And I do know that I feel the same way no matter what.

What if a child runs out into traffic chasing a ball. I think the author is not trying to place blame but rather trying to describe the maturation process of the ability to be in the moment.

I would like to reply


Pedestrians should remember too that being right will not protect them from being hit if driver makes mistake. We are people, we all make mistakes. Unfortunately some of them are fatal. However, pedestrians should also use common sense in regards of their safety not simply rely on being right

Your absolutely WRONG. A pedestrian yes. A person on a bike is still considered a motor vehicle. The person being the motor. The bike being the vehicle. Riders automatically think that we can see them farting out into traffic and in Pa they must maintain the same speed limits or get out of the way of cars trucks

I agree, for the most part, but to make blanket statements like that is not exactly fair either. I completely understand from where you are coming, and why you ARE so ‘biased’ in this scenario, but surely you can agree that there often ARE cases in which the driver is innocent, and the child him/herself is solely responsible? Consider the driver traveling at speed limit down the thoroughfare (NOT a ‘residential’ street), unimpaired, insured and with proper documentation as required by law. A child is playing in the park with his ball (mother is maybe looking away for the moment), and the child runs out into the street in front of the vehicle. The driver sees him at the last minute, slams on his brakes and attempts to swerve away from the child, but he’s too late. He immediately stops, calls for help and renders aid until EMS arrives. In this case (which actually happens more than you could know, all over the world on a regular basis), it is NOT the fault of the driver. It is purely the fault of the child, although he truly just didn’t know any better. But this driver will already suffer insurmountable emotional issues and horrific trauma, seeing this child in his mind every time he shuts his eyes. On top of all this, the general consensus is that he is a MONSTER, a child MURDERER, who could have (in SOME people’s view) done SOMETHING differently to avoid this tragedy. This is why I say, generalizations can hurt people. Until one has been in someone else’s shoes, things like this should be taken case by case. It could easily(and, perhaps, more accurately) be said that the MOTHER is at fault, for not keeping her child closer to her. But everyone feels sorry for her, while vilifying the driver. You are right, PEOPLE kill people, NOT cars. But, sometimes accidents just happen, and nothing can be done to change that. Studies like this ARE important and good, because they help people understand. They MAY also help parents understand that, before a child thoroughly UNDERSTANDS the dangers of the roadway, they need to keep their children close when nearby ANY streets, including the residential streets. I am ALWAYS careful on residential streets (I’m actually a very careful driver anyway, never speeding, and always as alert as possible), but I know that, regardless of how careful I am, this scenario could happen to me. I would advise against making blanket judgments against those that may NOT be as different from you as you think.

As a parent who has also hit a child riding a bike I disagree 100% with the above writer. The child that I hit was crossing the crosswalk when it was red for him. Blocking my view was a semi who saw the child in the right lane and I was in the left lane (5 lane road). The light had been green for me, I was following speed limits and was found 100% NOT at fault. The child went in front of the semi and was in front of me without ANY warning as the semi was blocking my view of the crosswalk (keeping in mind the light was green for me). I had approached the crosswalk going 20 MPH, the light turned green 500 yards from the intersection. It was horrifying and, by far, the worst incident that I have ever experienced. Luckily, the child (who also was not wearing a helmet) was ok other than a slight concussion. He was honestly very lucky to be alive. I am sharing my story because parents ALSO need to teach children that cars can KILL and to obey traffic signals and laws.

I am a careful driver who has never been in an accident other than this and had 1 ticket in my 18 years of driving. Accidents happen sadly.

Yeah the parents dont pay attention so thats there falt for their kids getting hurt. At Walmart this giy hit a 5 year old girl and he was saying that sje is not hirt by the way the car hit her and the mother was no where to be seen she was left at Walmart and she went in to the street and got hit by the car.

My daughter is age 5, I never allow her to play out in the street. I always teach her that these crazy drunk drivers will kill her that she better stop, watch all over the street to determine if it’s safe before crossing. No darting out in the street. Plus, I always hold her hand or give her a piggyback ride to keep her safe. Another thing I notice nowadays, a lot of children are being raised in broken homes without a father around which is no good. Our perception of danger starts from our parents’ teaching us. If both of our parents don’t teach us, we are more likely to never develop our own perception of danger. Also, we need to teach our kids to listen for danger coming. This world is becoming increasingly dangerous. Another problem I sadly see nowadays are parents who hate their kids being corrected. They hate correcting their kids and they hate others correcting their kids. Any parent who resents correcting their children might as well hate their own children because they behave as-if their children’s safety is none of their concern.

My almost 4 year old was hit by a car yesterday I feel like the worse mom in the world. She survived with only bruising and a slight skull fracture.

Parents have to take the blame because they send young kids out into the street alone way too young!!!

SO true

What about older kids? Are their parents to blame?My 14 year old niece was hat by a car and now in coma.she was crossing on the crosswalk. Car in the closest lane stopped, but neither her nor driver of the car in the next lane did not see each other. Who is here to blame? And I know other incidents of teens being hit by a car when they cross in right place.

I only read this article because Im having a problem with people coming to a toddler park that is surrounded by busy streets and leaving the gates open. This park is in a shape of a triangle and each side has streets with zooming cars going by. I try to mention to the people about the children being in danger by leaving the gates open but it doesnt seem to sink in. I even find some parents doing it! This park has newborns to 5 year olds playing at the park all the time. Does anyone have any advice?

Hello there I have to admit it sad an not safe but fun for the kids an my be walking good distance.i understand. I live in a rent free now since I’m not workn been here for13y prior to the new management I put up a screen door because I love on a highway bus route also around me are men shelters and bums also surround the neighborhood the new management wants me to take it down it did not for 6 months before she noticed it and I also have a free camera on my property that was provided by them she told me she did not see it until last week she gave me in fractions to my lease now she’s telling me that I have to remove it be honest though I did not have prior written notice to put it up not only that I told her I had an emergency so I put the screen door up to protect my children from getting hit by a bus cars or even to have a Amber Alert of a missing child show war in hell I can’t protect my kid I’m trying to protest am I wrong for protecting my kids sadly sadly Miss I need help

Every morning I see that a child is getting hit by a car, this is scary and its not all the kids fault .Its people in a hurry on there phones.. Walking my kids to school one morning I too was almost clipped by a car going about 50 miles per hour , she never slowed down even though she could clearly see me almost across the walk and I just made it to the sidewalk before she almost hit me…. I should have had plenty of time acording to how far back she was…..

I hit a young child in a cross walk yesterday. Clearly the most devastating moment of my life. I too, am a careful driver. One ticket in my life. I stopped and the child was running in the cross walk. Thank the lord above, he is most likely going to be ok. He wasn’t crying,was talking and moving. knew his name and his teachers name. no broken bones. He had a big bruise on his head. A little blood from being scratched, but no other bleeding. police and paramedic said he’d be ok, just banged up. If he would of died, i don’t know what I would of done.

I am doing a college project where i am writing up a proposal for Pierce County to have the install more “slow, children at play” signage within the county. Due to the increase pedestrian children being hit on the roads by innocent motorist, i think it would be good to more signage to help motorist be aware of children in high children traffic areas. Would you be willing for a phone intereview? Thanks, Kevin

I am not going to try and argue with anyone on here. I am simply going to say how i feel over the whole thing. My brother was hit by a car about three weeks ago and when it happened i had went to the bathroom. I blame myself entirely for what happened to him. I am only sixteen and to be honest that was horrifying for me. i had to ride in the ambulance and helicopter and did not leave his side once. my parents were at work and i had to watch my four younger siblings. the women that hit him was only worried about herself. She said and i quote ” thank god i m not going to jail” once she realized he wasn’t dead. she told the police that she saw him, she was going about 30 so she really did some damage. He is still in the hospital. I blame her but not entirely because i should have been there.

I had had a bike accident with a kid that ran out I front of me and I skitted and slid into him when I came to a halt. I was not at fault because the parent was not watching her kid. The kid was not injured neither was I. Yet to this day kids are not entirely being supervised by parents, they are too busy partying or talking to other people. Some parents think that “oh its a bike it won’t hit my child”. But when they see a car they say “Car!”. My advice is if you have a child playing in the street, look for bikes and cars. If you are in a car, honk for attention.

Hi Tristan,
I have a college project going on right now, trying to propose Pierce County install signage to help alert motorist in areas of high children population areas of children at play. Would you be willing for a phone interview? Thanks, Kevin

Schools and parents should be doing more to teach kids street safety when walking on the sidewalk and crossing the street. This used to be done, but these days, it has been replaced with stop signs on the sides of buses and the end result is the kids don’t really learn any of the skills they need to learn. I think the school system is just as much to blame as the parents are in most cases. Kids don’t even look both ways anymore. They just run across the street like they do when the bus is there to protect them, but when there’s no bus, bad things happen.

My daughter was hit by a car and dragged 23 feet under the tire.Due to security cameras, we were able to see that she had looked both ways and did what she had been taught to do. The driver(who worked at a daycare down the street from us) wasn’t looking at the road and never saw her until she hit her. My daughter was 7 at the time. From the knee down on her right leg, there was nothing but bone. The woman never apologized, she went so far as to blame my daughter! I feel so bad for anyone who had this happen, both driver and victim. I just wish that this person could have apologized or shown any remorse at all. Our medical bills after five years ( and counting) have reached over 1.5 million. 19 surgeries and counting, and still no remorse. Please just drive slower and watch carefully, an accident is just that, an accident. Remember the mortality code, children under the age of 10, cannot grasp the understanding that they could die. No one wins in this tragedy…they all lose!

I hit a 4 year old children half year ago. I was driving on the road with 2 lanes. I’m driving in right lane. The father trying to take the children walk against the traffic. He claim in the police report that his cell phone fall down. He go to pick it up and therefore he didn’t hold his children hand. The taxi in the left lane see they want to cross the road and therefore stop. When I’m behind the taxi, I check again and again no one is going to cross the road. Then the children suddenly run in front of my car. I quickly turn my car and fortunately I didn’t hit him directly. He’s going to be ok although he get a broken right leg.

I don’t understand. I was trying to explain to my 6 year old daughter. The importance of car safety weather it was her walking somewhere someday. Or the response abilities of a driver and I was explaining how kids get hit all the time. And she ask how many kids get hit a day. So I tried to look it up and I can not find any information. You would think that something like that would be available. If any body knows of even if anybody knows why the info is unavailable could you let me know.

I read a year or more ago that every 20 seconds a child is hit by a car in London (UK)

My daughter gothit by a car that mounted the pavement while she was waiting for lights to change at a pelican crossing. She has had 30 hours of surgery, she had to have above knee amputation or she would have died. She has numerous metal work and will be in hospital for weeks and rehab for months, plus I may have to give up my job to look after her

My brother had accident three years ago, the guy who hit the motorcycle he was showed some remorse and no one had the time to blame him or whoever, rather we concentrated on the health of the victim. I guess that was so because he showed too much remorse.

I was hit by a car February 20 2004 I was only 7 years old and to this day I still have issues with trusting people driving around or getting into a car because I’m afraid that I will be hit by a car again. I was on my way home from school like I did any other day in 2004 after school next thing I knew she hit me with her car because she was looking at her floor looking for her makeup and not paying attention to the road. I never want anyone hit by a car if you drop something in your car pull over and get it if it means that much to you save a life save your self from jail or whatever it is you get for hitting someone with your car

Today my 5 year old son was hit by a car. We were at school and the car was parked and backed into him. I was walking behind him as he was winning onto the sidewalk. By the time I saw the car move he was right behind it. The driver didn’t even check her mirrors, a classmates mom. I am horrified. She had to have been going 4 mph and he was fine. I searched this blog out to see if I could find any information on post trauma to be prepared for the night to come if he should be in pain I couldn’t bare it. Does anyone have any constructive criticism on treatment on a just in case business. I am an hour out from getting him from school as he insisted on going in with his mates. I’ve been worried sick all day with hourly reports from the school as I have given them stern instruction to keep an eye. Maybe Epsom salts can help this or if anyone knows anything I’ll pick it up in preparation before getting him from school.

My apologies for all the gosh darn autocorrects.

My cousin and I have developed a backpack for children the is reflective. We have tested to 250’and it’s very visible at that range using car headlamps. To many children are killed by cars. We will be starting a campaign on indiegogo in about a month in a half. One bag is black in the day and turns bright white at night when a light is shinning on it. The other is rainbow and highly reflective. Our brand is northern litze and I hope we can safe lives. We tried to design it so kids like it and parents love it. If it saves one life I will be happy.

It’s a shame that this is still happening at such a high rate. My views on this are controversial, but here they are nonetheless.

The first point I would like to make is that when it’s all said and done, roads were made and paved for cars, not people. Cars weigh an average of two tons and that’s higher for trucks and SUVs, so why is all the responsibility on them when someone gets hit? A human on two feet is far more agile and capable of making quick decisions and direction changes than a vehicle traveling at ANY speed. As a pedestrian, I believe YOU have the bulk of the responsibility to watch what you’re doing and analyze the crossing conditions before stepping foot into the road. That’s not to say that drivers should be absolved of all responsibility, but pedestrians don’t get nearly enough of that responsibility. You should always be alert when crossing the street, always. Crosswalk or no crosswalk, it doesn’t matter.

Second, I blame parents and the school system for a lot of this as well. Those stop signs on the side of school buses do more to put children in danger than anything else since they teach kids unsafe street crossing habits. Namely, that it’s safe to run out into the road without looking which is an extremely dangerous, negligent and sometimes deadly practice to perpetrate onto young, impressionable kids. Is it any wonder more kids and young adults get hit by cars every year? We are teaching them to do the things that are getting them killed. These stop signs need to go especially the ones on middle school and high school buses. If kids that age still don’t know how to cross the street safely, then parents, the school system and society have utterly failed them and this is the result.

When I was in school, the bus drivers would yell at kids for running out in front of the bus when they got off. Why? It’s dangerous! Why don’t we have these stop signs on MTA buses as well for adults? Also, it’s dangerous! The bus driver would always explain to us that it is safer to wait for the bus to leave and the traffic to thin before crossing the street.

I knew how to cross the street safely before I even entered the first grade and my parents had something to do with that as well. They took the time to teach me how to cross safely BEFORE I started school. They walked me through it. We did it together. How many parents do that today? Instead, it seems many just shun that responsibility off onto others and then blame everyone else when something goes wrong. The whole system is set up to produce the results described in this article; more kids and young adults being hit by cars largely due to the habits we encourage them to do. We tell them it’s safe to run out into the road without looking all through their school years and then everyone is enraged when it eventually costs them their life. Open your eyes and look in the mirror, You’re responsible for this, too.

The problem with this entire discussion is trying pinpoint blame rather talking the real issue. RISK! The Severity of a collision will almost always be catastrophic – even at low speeds a child will risk death. KE=1/2mv^2, laws of physics can’t be changed. We can’t change the severity. Having people drive 2 mph is unreasonable. The only thing we can control is probability. Cars can only drive on the street – so we will always have some sort of collision risk. We can mitigate it by placing signs, but all it takes is one person to ignore them and bam! We can’t preach driver safety to enough people. However, I think we can reduce the likelihood of collision by teaching our children street safety and then watching them to determine if they can handle trafficking a street on their own. For example, when my kids were little I would deliberately kick our soccer ball into the road (when cars weren’t around) to see what they would do. Tests like this would help me to determine what areas of street safety I needed to help them improve on. We need to teach and then verify our children’s competency. We can’t assume they know because we said it a bunch. I once caught my child running behind a car backing up – despite me telling him over and over again not to. You better believe he didn’t forget again after I was done with him.

Parents can preach “free-range” or that drivers need to slow down and yield to children all they want. They can place blame on drivers for hitting their child, but at the end of the day – we can’t bring back a dead child. Risk mitigation is the only way and parents should be at the forefront of this. If parents don’t think pounding street safety into the heads of their kids are a priority, then they have to accept the fact they are absorbing the risk of their child being hit by a car.

As a person who has to walk to school I’ve almost been hit 3 times in just this year. I have to be extra careful. it has to be my responsibility to make sure I get home safe. The school does not provide transportation for any one who lives with in a mile away. It is very upsetting when we must walk in the rain and snow to get our education. As a high school student crossing the road isn’t easy. The schools should offer buses to everyone because if i die while going home it is on the school and the driver.

Thank you for writing this article. As car drivers it is difficult to admit that vulnerable road users have a right to use roads and that it is our responsibility to ensure their safety.
I walked and biked to school. I was sad to see that in 40yrs the percentage of children who walk and bike to school dropped from 48% to 13%.
If we want the next generation to be independent, healthy, and connected, we need to stop blaming pedestrians for being killed by car drivers and make our streets safe for them.

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