Two children were hit by a car while walking to school with their mother in North Philadelphia. The brother and sister were initially taken to Hahnemann University Hospital and then later transported to St. Christopher Hospital for further evaluation and treatment. At the time of the news report, the four-year-old boy was listed in critical condition with a head injury. The seven-year-old girl remained in the hospital as well, but her injuries were not as serious.
The two children were struck by the same vehicle, at the same time, going the same speed. So how and why were their injuries so vastly different? While there may have been slight differences in the angle at which they were standing or perhaps one child saw the vehicle a fraction of a second before impact and was able to brace for it, the answer to that question is this:
When a child is struck by a car, the area of greatest injury depends mostly on the size of the child and the height of the bumper on impact.
Child Pedestrian Injuries Are Different Than Those Sustained by Adult Pedestrians
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and based on 2016 traffic accident statistics, 20 percent of children aged 14 and younger who die in traffic-related crashes are pedestrians who have been struck by a car. Pedestrian accidents caused the death of 245 children in 2016, including 101 aged 10-14, 68 aged 5-9, and 76 who were under the age of 5. Children, along with older adults, are considered the most vulnerable of all pedestrian age groups for accidents involving motor vehicles.
However, studies reveal that the injuries suffered by child pedestrian victims vary greatly from those suffered by adults. With adult victims, musculoskeletal injuries—particularly those involving the upper and lower legs and knees—were the most common injuries experienced in an accident with a car, accounting for more than 40 percent of all injuries sustained. However, in children, head and neck injuries were the most common, accounting for more than 34 percent of all child pedestrian injuries, while musculoskeletal injuries accounted for 22 percent. The third most common area for a child to be injured in this type of accident is the chest and abdomen.
The reason for this is because children are generally smaller in stature than adults. The area of greatest injury on a pedestrian’s body when being struck by a car is often the first point of impact with the bumper.
For an adult struck by a standard-sized passenger car, the bumper is likely to strike the legs or pelvic region, while a child’s injuries would depend on the child’s height. A younger, smaller child might experience the initial impact with the bumper in the head and neck. The point of impact for an elementary-aged child might be the chest and torso. A teenager, having attained much of the stature he or she would have as an adult, would likely experience impact to the pelvis or legs as an adult would.
The other component in the injury areas of pedestrians injured in automobile accidents is the bumper height. The bumper of a large pickup truck makes contact higher up on the body of any aged pedestrian than a compact car, often resulting in a greater chance of head injuries for elementary-aged children, and chest, torso, neck or head injuries for teenagers and adults.
While the size and bumper height are the greatest indicators of where the greatest area of injuries will take place in a child pedestrian accident, other factors influence the severity of injuries, including the following:
- The speed the vehicle is traveling at the time of impact. Speed increases the severity of any accident. Being struck by a car at a higher rate of speed not only results in a harder impact, but can also result in secondary injuries as the force of the impact causes the pedestrian to slide up onto the hood or be tossed a distance through the air. An example of this was a Halloween accident in Philadelphia in which a driver, suspected of driving too fast for the conditions of the road, crashed into a mother and her three-year-old daughter as they were crossing the street while trick-or-treating. Neighbors stated that they witnessed the car strike the woman and child, causing both of them to be thrown onto the hood before falling off a short time later. Both the mother and the child sustained critical injuries in the crash.
- The angle of the impact. Being hit at an angle by a car will result in a different projection of the body than a direct frontal hit. Many head injuries in taller children and adults in direct impact collisions result from the car making initial impact with the legs and then a secondary impact with the person’s head and neck and the hood. However, if hit at an angle, the impact is more likely to project the person’s body away from the hood.
Increased Risks for Child Pedestrians
- The ability to pay attention. Children often can’t recognize potential traffic hazards or to respond to them appropriately, particularly when there are multiple stimuli, such as in an area with heavy traffic congestion.
- Information processing. In concert with the difficulty in attentive responsiveness to potentially dangerous situations, children have difficulty putting together the many pieces of the puzzle involved with multiple stimuli needed to anticipate the outcomes or assess risks.
- Decision-making. The ability of children to take the information of what is going on around them and make a decision as to what their safest response would be is also still developing. An example of this would be evidence that younger children almost always take longer to enter a safe gap in traffic when crossing the street than older children do.
- Deductive reasoning skills and memory. The lack of development in this area causes children to be unable to discern where the safest place to cross the street will be through the use of reasoning, such as motorists are more likely to anticipate a pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk than in the middle of the road, and memory, which involves remembering that one intersection is normally busier than another and therefore harder to cross.
In addition to cognitive development, a child’s perceptual development is also not completely formed. This impacts a child’s ability to perform a visual search of a roadway to determine if cars are coming before choosing to cross.
Other factors that place a child pedestrian at a larger risk of a car include:
- Distractions, such as talking to a friend, listening to music, or talking on the phone.
- Temperament and personality. These traits seem particularly influential over children in the five- to eight-year-old age group, who are prone to take more risks than children who are older or younger.
- The lack of parental supervision when crossing the street. One study indicated that about 64 percent of child pedestrians aged 5-12 who were injured in an accident involving a car were unsupervised at the time of the accident.
- Population and traffic density of the area in which the child is walking or playing. Children are most likely to be hit by a car near a school where there is high traffic due to parents dropping off or picking up children, teens driving to or from school, and people on their way to work. Another common area in which child pedestrian accidents occur is in neighborhood areas where there is not a designated public play area nearby and children are, instead, playing in the street.
How to Avoid Child Pedestrian Accidents
Every accident is avoidable if drivers pay attention. They don’t always, though, and parents can teach their children these safety tips to reduce their risk of a car hitting them:
- Wear bright, reflective clothing, particularly in low light, so that motorists are more likely to see you.
- With a parent, plan out the safest route for walking, taking into consideration the traffic in the area and the number of times you will be required to cross busy streets to reach your destination.
- Always walk on a sidewalk if one is available. Otherwise, walk as far to the left of the roadway as possible, facing traffic. Face traffic to have the opportunity to see and respond to vehicles that may speed or approach dangerously close to you.
- Do not cross a non-intersected area of the roadway. Always cross at an intersection, a corner, or in a marked crosswalk where motorists are more likely to be looking for pedestrian traffic. Understand and obey crosswalk signals. Even at a crosswalk, you should always look both ways before stepping into the roadway and be prepared to get out of the way of a vehicle that doesn’t stop for you.
- Walk defensively. Eliminate distractions and pay attention to the vehicles around you. Give vehicles an opportunity to slow or stop before entering the roadway and realize that just because you can see them, that doesn’t mean they can see you.
- Avoid playing or walking in the roadway, particularly in areas where there may be a corner or other visibility issue that may cause a motorist to be unable to see you until it’s too late.
Motorists have a strong part to play in protecting child pedestrians, as well. Some tips on how motorists can avoid hitting a child pedestrian include:
- Don’t speed, particularly in areas that children frequent, such as near schools or parks. Extra caution should be paid during certain times of the day, as well, including mornings shortly before school starts and afternoons after school is done for the day, as these are times when child pedestrians are likely to be on the roadway.
- Avoid driving while impaired by alcohol. Alcohol diminishes the skills that an individual needs for safe driving, including the ability to recognize and react to hazards and to judge distance or speed.
- Be mindful of the additional precautions that you should take when driving around school buses. Don’t ever pass a school bus that has its warning sign extended and its lights flashing. The likelihood is high that children will be crossing the street to either get on or off the school bus. Stop at least 20 feet behind the bus to allow room for children who may be crossing or for parents and other caretakers who may be waiting.
- Be careful when backing out of your driveway, checking your side mirrors and over each shoulder to ensure that children are not walking in the roadway or on the sidewalk who may step into your path. If you have small children of your own, always look behind your car before getting into it and backing up. Many small children are hit and injured or killed in their own driveway, by their own family members who did not realize the child was in the driveway.
Is the Child Ever Liable for the Accident?
All motorists have a duty of care to others on the roadway. Generally, that duty of care is to drive safely and lawfully. However, the duty of care for motorists is higher when it comes to children. Lawmakers are aware that children lack the development necessary to make sound decisions when it comes to crossing the road. The duty of the motorist is to be extra cautious when driving in areas frequented by children, with the full realization that a child who darts out into the street is not negligent due to his or her young age and developing brain.
Therefore, it is rare to find a case where a child pedestrian is found liable for an accident, even if the child’s actions were at least partially to blame for why the accident occurred.
If your child was injured in an accident with a car, you may be eligible to recover compensation for medical expenses and other costs. A car accident lawyer can provide more information about your right to recover compensation.