Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Supervising Children in Parking Lots

September 12, 2019
parking lot safety

With back to school in full swing, I find myself bringing my kids in and out of parking lots for school pickups and dropoffs, for back-to-school shopping, and for other extracurricular activities. Whenever I do, it’s always somewhat stressful because we are distracted by several things including: multiple children, feeling like we are in a rush, and anticipation for our destination. Knowing from previous research that young children under 5 years of age are at higher risk for injuries in parking lots is another factor that contributes to the “stress” of crossing through a parking lot.

So it was with great interest that I read a recent observational study in the Journal of Safety Research that alarmingly found a high percentage of young children were unsupervised or out of arm’s reach from their adult supervisors in parking lots. In 2017, researchers in this study observed 124 children ages 2 to 10 years old and their adult supervisors in six different locations crossing a parking lot from their vehicle to a community rec center (including crossing at least one thoroughfare) during peak traffic hours. Environmental variables such as temperature, traffic volume, number of parked vehicles in the parking lot, and number of pedestrians moving within the parking lot were recorded. Outcome variables included:

  • Observing whether the parent or the child was the first out of the vehicle
  • Supervision after parking (i.e., was the child out of adult eyesight while outside the vehicle before walking?)
  • Supervision while walking (i.e., was the child immediately near the adult for the entirety of the crossing?)
  • Supervision while the child crossed the main thoroughfare through the parking lot (which included observations about adult assistance and degree of supervision based on distance from the adult)
  • Whether the child looked left and right before crossing the thoroughfare

What They Found

In this study, 63 percent of the adults were the target child’s mother.

  • The mean age of the child was ~5 years.
  • In 50 percent of cases, the child exited the car before the adult.
  • Between exiting the car and starting to walk, children were unsupervised 67 percent of the time.
  • Children did not stay immediately near their adult while in the parking lot in nearly 89 percent of observed cases.
  • Nearly half of the children (48 percent) crossed the thoroughfare independently, without any adult assistance.
  • Nearly 75 percent of children did not look left, and 87 percent of children did not look right before crossing the thoroughfare in the parking lot.
  • When analyzed by age, all 2-year-olds in the study were supervised while in the parking lot. In contrast, children 4 years old and above were more frequently unsupervised than supervised in the parking lot.
  • Older children were more likely than younger children to exit the vehicle first and to look right before crossing the thoroughfare.

I was surprised at the higher percentages of kids, even in the older end of the group, who were unsupervised in parking lots. It would behoove us as clinicians to remind families that children under the age of 10 are less able to judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic. Click here for more pedestrian safety tips from Safe Kids, and here for driver safety tips in parking lots

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