Walking to School

Thousands of children across Houston walk to and from school each day. But some neighborhoods don't have sidewalks and kids have to hike their way through obstacles to get to school. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, local law enforcement and health professionals are trying to draw attention to the risks associated with walking to school.

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Walking to school increases physical activity and independence for children. Javier Valdez is a health educator with Texas Children's Hospital Center for Childhood Injury Prevention. He says walking to school isn't a bad thing, but there are risks.

"Children younger than ten years old really don't have the cognitive skills yet to be able to judge distance and speed. And so they'll look down the street, they'll see a car coming and they think that they can actually race across the street to beat the car and a lot of times that isn't the case. So children just don't understand when a car is driving, how fast it's actually going to get to them."

The SafeKids Worldwide organization estimates 44,000 children visit the emergency room each year in pedestrian/vehicle accidents. Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Jeffery McGowen says the department has identified an area in the Aldine school district near Worsham Elementary where it's especially dangerous for children to walk.

"The area in which we target today was the fourth or fifth highest number of pedestrian accidents and fatalities in Harris County."

And Harris County is the fifth highest in overall pedestrian fatalities in the country. For children between the ages of one and four, Houston has the highest rate of vehicle-related deaths. Valdez says parents need to be a little more active in the safety role for their children.

"They need to actually physically walk with their child to and from school to see what the barriers might be, to see what might need to be addressed. And sometimes it's as simple as picking up the phone, calling your city councilmember or calling one of the precinct camps and letting them know that there is a problem -- either tall weeds, trash, abandoned homes -- things like that."

Valdez says parents should also teach their children to cross the street at intersections, rather than the middle of the block and to make eye contact with drivers before stepping into the road. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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