It seems kids rarely play outside anymore, and when they do, parents go haywire worrying that l'il Jane's tricycle trip around the block will become a kamikaze death mission. She could fall and be injured, drift into speeding traffic, or get run over by a speeding teenager on his way to the mall.
In the modern world, sadly, many of these parental concerns about kids and cars are not paranoid flights of fantasy. Speeding on residential streets and in school zones is one of the most pervasive outdoor safety issues for children. Each year in the United States, 650 pedestrians ages 14 and under die in motor vehicle-related crashes and an additional 20,000 children suffer injuries. The most at-risk group of pedestrians involved in traffic accidents are 5- to 9-year-old males, who tend to dart out into the street.
In the Netherlands, Carbusters (July-Sept. 2005) reports, a volunteer organization called 3VO (Voor Veilig Verkeer -- For Traffic Safety) has been working for almost 20 years to put a stop to pedestrian traffic injuries by sponsoring National Street Playing Day. In June, 2,000 streets in the Netherlands were closed to motorized traffic -- a significant increase since the first National Street Playing Day in 1986 -- and 250,000 kids came out to play.The rest of the world may want to pay attention to 3VO's success. In about a third of participating Dutch towns, city administrators have implemented new traffic safety measures such as laying down crosswalks and fencing in playgrounds. Children are returning to the streets to play and so, too, is the art of having carefree fun -- which should be a rite of passage, and a fundamental right of childhood, for kids all over the world.