JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – They seem like mandatory accessories for children and teenagers.
Headphones either covering or plugged into their ears, playing their favorite music or podcast. All of the entertainment is typically being streamed from a smartphone or portable electronic device.
While the gadgets help break up the boredom of walking to and from class each school day, they can also pose a safety hazard by distracting children from what's going on around them.
News4Jax Crime and Safety Analyst Gil Smith wants children and parents to know how to be safe during the school year.
"Loud music or any distraction can put any person walking down a city street in jeopardy. It's important that children be aware of their surroundings and that means hearing what's going on, as well as seeing," Smith said. "Just using your headphones in one ear is a way that you can listen to music but still be aware of what's happening around you."
The National Safety Council has started a campaign called "Heads Up, Phones Down" to alert parents to the dangers their children's electronic devices can bring.
According to the NSC's website, in 1995, children ages 5 to 9 were more at risk than any other age group under 19 for being struck by a vehicle while walking.
The good news is, the death rate for kids of all ages in this category declined more than 50 percent in the last 20 years.
But there is much more work to be done.
According to a study by SafeKids.org, 61 children are hit by cars every day in the United States, most often during the hours before and after school, and peaking in September.
And, there has been a noticeable demographic shift. It is now much more likely a teenager will be hit by a car than his younger counterpart.
"It's not just obstructed hearing that distracts children. Typically, they aren't looking at the road and what's happening around them because they are also looking down at a phone or other device," Smith said.
Smith advises parents to use these guidelines from the National Safety Council before their children head out for school:
- Never walk while texting or talking on the phone
- If texting, move out of the way of others and stop on the sidewalk
- Never cross the street while using an electronic device
- Do not walk with headphones on
- Be aware of the surroundings
- Always walk on the sidewalk if one is available; if a child must walk on the street, he or she should face oncoming traffic
- Look left, right, then left again crossing the street
- Cross only at crosswalks
Smith also warned drivers not to be distracted by their electronic devices, as well.
"Don't text and drive. Don't play loud music in the car. Keep your eyes on the road. If everyone abides by those rules, it should be a safe school year," Smith said.