"When 10-year-old Tanya Woods died under the wheels of a car on Pennsylvania Avenue," said a news story in Wednesday's Washington Post, "she became the third younster killed crossing the street in that community in a little more than a year."
Another story nearby told of a child of 5 who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Landover Road.
Events of this kind shock us. Most of us would be more profoundly shocked if we knew the full extent of the carnage. Each year in this country, 50,000 children receive disabling injuries from "pedestrian accidents," and more than 2,000 of them die. Children in the 3-to-7 age group are the most frequently struck by cars.
In addition, the National Highway Safety Administration says 100,000 children under the age of 5 are injured each year in cars. One must wonder whether parents are aware of this danger when they permit their children to ride in the "suicide seat" without a seat belt or other restraint.
Even worse, some parents permit their children to stand up in a moving vehicle. These children sometimes crawl over the driver and impede his or her operation of the car.
If you like excitement, watch an automobile going through traffic as a crawling youngster brushes against its mother's lighted cigarette. Hold your breath as she hits the brakes, tries to see around the child, steers with her left hand, grabs for the child with her right to keep it from being thrown into the windshield as the car decelerates - and at the same time tries to figure out with which hand to beat out the sparks before they burn her dress.
Why are so many small children injured by and in automobiles? Rita S. Weiss, educational consultant in traffic engineering and safety for the American Automobile Association, has studied the question in dept and can give us more facts and suggestions than the average person has time to absorb. A capsule version of what she has learned is well worth pondering:
A child's perception of danger is not the same as an adult's, she points out.
Children are smaller. They see things from a different angle, and they are harder to see.
"Visual development of young children is not yet complete. They require a longer time to focus their vision. Sometimes what they see is blurred, at other times they seem to focus on only one segment of the traffic scene." A child has not yet developed the ability to judge speed and direction. He doesn't even have an adult's ability to judge from which direction a sound is coming.
Many children don't understand traffic signs. Few know what the law requires of them, or of drivers. They think a driver can stop his car as quickly as a pedestrian can stop walking.
Some children think the safest way to cross a street is to run. Being more spontaneous than adults, they sometimes dart in front of moving vehicles.
Children frequently misunderstand instructions given to them by others. You say one thing to them, but they manage to get quite another impression into their heads.
Children are inconsistent. One day they remember, the next day they don't. A child's attention span is short. If it is difficult to teach adults to be safety conscious, why do we think one safety lecture is all a child needs?
What can we do to help our children survive in spite of the automobile? Weiss offers five suggestions:
1.Give children the best safety training we can. Start each child's training as early as possible. (AAA safety booklets are available at nominal cost.)
2. Alter the child's training to keep pace with his developing ability to comprehend.
3. Recognize that children can never be equated with adults. They will forget even the best training. Therefore:
4. We adults must adapt ourselves and our driving patterns to compensate for the child's inability to cope with the danger to which our autos subject him.
5. And, finally, we ought to "stimulate and subsidize" scientific investigations from which we can learn to improve our traffic safety training for both children and adults. The alternative is to continue to kill or disable a thousand children every week.