Children cannot safely cross the road until they are 14 years old, scientists claim.
A new study has found it takes more than a decade to develop perceptual judgment and motor skills needed to navigate traffic consistently without risking danger.
Researchers placed children from six to 14 years old in a realistic simulated environment and asked them to cross one lane of a busy road multiple times.
It was only when children reached teenage years that they were able to cross with little to no incidents.
The study, conducted at the University of Iowa, recruited children who were ages six, eight, 10, 12 and 14, as well as a control group of adults.
Each participant faced a string of approaching virtual vehicles travelling 25mph (considered a benchmark speed for a residential neighborhood) and then crossed a single lane of traffic (about nine feet wide).
The time between vehicles ranged from two to five seconds and each participant negotiated a road crossing 20 times.
Six-year-olds were struck by vehicles eight percent of the time
Eight-year-olds were struck six percent
10-year-olds were struck five percent
12-year-olds were struck two percent Those age 14 and older had no accidents
Researchers saw children as young as six crossing the street as quickly as adults, eliminating crossing speed as a possible cause for being hit by a car.
'Most kids choose similar size gaps between the passing car and oncoming vehicle] as adults,' said Elizabeth O'Neal, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences. 'But they're not able to time their movement into traffic as well as adults can.'
The study found that children struggled with two main variables when deciding whether it's safe to cross a street.
First was their perceptual ability, or how they judge the gap between a passing car and an oncoming vehicle, taking into account the oncoming car's speed and distance from the crossing.
The research showed that younger children had more difficulty making consistently accurate perceptual decisions. Second was their motor skills, or how quickly children timed their step from the curb into the street after a car just passed. Younger children were incapable of timing that first step as precisely as adults, which gave them less time to cross the street before the next car arrived.
The National Center for Statistics and Analysis reported 8,000 injuries and more than 200 fatalities involving motor vehicles and pedestrians aged 14 or younger in 2014.
The researchers recommend that children be taught by parents to be patient and that younger children are encouraged to choose gaps that are even larger than the gaps adults would choose for themselves. Also, civic planners are encouraged to help by identifying places where children are likely to cross streets and making sure those intersections have a pedestrian-crossing aid.
'If there are places where kids are highly likely to cross the road because it's the most efficient route to school, for example, and traffic doesn't stop there, it would be wise to have crosswalks,' said Dr Jodie Plumert, professor in UI's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.