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When It Comes to Pedestrian Safety, the Elephant Knows Best

Nine years ago on Labour Day, Road Rules wrote about the children’s traffic safety program developed in Toronto in 1947 using an elephant cartoon mascot because of the elephant’s legendary memory —Elmer the Safety Elephant.  The responses were all in the same vein: that just hearing the name, Elmer the Safety Elephant brought back many fond memories, and from the perspective of years, an appreciation for the program’s effectiveness, and, of course, how much the times have changed.

People recalled walking back and forth to school as their day’s highlight, more so than their classroom times.  Walking or biking to school with siblings and friends was great fun, good exercise, and even character building.  Slogging through rain or snowstorms to arrive on time was an accomplishment on which to build your day’s in-class efforts.  Thanks to Elmer, kids at least knew the basic road safety rules —whether or not they always followed them.

These days many kids are walked or driven to school by parents or caregivers.  This new pattern is the result of many changes.  School districts have porous borders now.  No matter how independent and gung-ho they may be, lots of kids attend schools beyond walking or biking distance.  Traffic is fierce everywhere and can spill over into secondary streets that are the feeder routes into local schools. And even without spillover from arterial roads, the two and three car households that have become the norm generate local neighborhood traffic in the morning and afternoon ‘rush hours.’

The media blast of horror seems to have intensified about local traffic jams, and the more peculiar the story (and hence less likely to reoccur, but nevertheless…) the better.  And so we may be seeing a return to a world in which parents who might actually consider letting their children walk or bike to school by themselves, risk being judged negligent.

At some point, however, between home, vehicular transport, the school curb, and the classroom, children still cannot escape being ‘pedestrians’ who need to be aware of the road rules that will keep them safe. The responsibility for teaching these rules rests with parents, caregivers, and schools.

Elmer’s original safety rules were based on a study of collisions involving 5- to 9-year- olds. Running was usually a contributing factor. And because children can forget to be careful in the excitement of the moment, “Elmer and I never forget” was the slogan for the program. Elmer’s seven time-tested traffic safety rules well worth sharing with your school-age children are: 

1. Look all ways before you cross the street.

2. Keep away from parked cars.

3.  Ride your bike safely and obey all traffic signs and signals.

4.  Play in a safe place away from the street.

5.  Walk when you cross the street.

6.  Where there is no sidewalk, walk on the left, facing traffic.

7. Always wear your seat belt in the car.

 Elmer now addresses many aspects of child injury prevention, including a playground, fire, school bus, railway, home, and Internet safety. 

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