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Why Do We Put the Onus for Traffic Safety on Kids?

11:30 AM PDT on October 6, 2016

.@NTSB Vice Chairman: Practice safe walking behavior. Stay alert, walk on sidewalks, cross at crosswalks. #NationalWalkToSchoolDaypic.twitter.com/TWRChfTdcZ

— NTSB (@NTSB) October 5, 2016

It's Walk-to-School Day, a day when children all over the country get to enjoy the simple experience of traveling somewhere using their own power. It makes me happy because I love seeing the pictures of kids walking with their parents. But it's a sad day too, because we shouldn't need a special day to celebrate such a normal, healthy, human activity.

Walk-to-School Day also is also a reminder of the many ways we've engineered walking out of the lives of children, and how forbidding our culture and environment can be toward walking.

The tweet at the top of this post from the National Transportation Safety Board is a good example. Here we have a federal safety agency putting the onus for children's well-being in traffic on... children. There was no tweet from NTSB warning drivers to slow down and be extra careful. (In their defense, the next tweet was a photo of NTSB Vice Chairman Bella Dihn-Zarr accompanying D.C. schoolchildren on their walk to school.)

This is par for the course. Last year, on Bike to School Day, the NTSB Twitter account reminded kids to wear a helmet to "prevent death." Very encouraging!

Sure, it's important to teach kids about traffic safety. But how many children follow NTSB on Twitter for safety tips? What exactly is the agency trying to communicate here?

The fact is, even children who follow the rules are not free from risk, because drivers travel at dangerous speeds and fail to yield the right of way when they should. But for some reason we hold children to awfully high standards while tacitly absolving all kinds of dangerous driving behavior.

It doesn't help when official powers contribute to this false equivalence, implying that the licensed adult driver with the capacity to kill and the vulnerable child trying to get to school are equally responsible for preventing traffic injuries and deaths. It's a sick part of our culture, and it helps explain why walking to school has become so rare.

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