Children's Health

Parking Lot Safety for Kids

A study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows an alarming need for adult supervision in parking lots, with 67 percent of children observed not having supervision at some point between the vehicle’s parking and the child’s entering the building.

“Children are unpredictable,” said David Schwebel, Ph.D., associate dean for research in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “The safety risks in parking lots are already dangerous. We observed that parents pay less attention to their children in these parking lots, even further elevating the risk.”

Investigators believe the perception of danger diminishes in environments that are seen as “low-risk.”

The study, published in the Journal of Safety Research, showed that 88.9 percent of children in a parking lot are outside of an adult’s arm reach. And more than half of the children observed exited the vehicle before the adult.

Investigators believe that the perception of risk diminishes in well-known, familiar locations, because adults and children feel “safe.” Researchers said that adults and children may not see risks in parking lots because vehicles are moving more slowly and injury rates are perceived as lower in this environment.

“As adult supervisors, we are responsible for teaching children basic pedestrian safety practices and leading by example,” said Jenni Rouse, a doctoral student in the UAB Department of Psychology. “Adult supervision of children in a parking lot setting is apparently poor, creating significant safety risks. By addressing the concerns of pedestrian safety with children in parking lots, we can help cut down on the number of injuries presented in emergency departments and hopefully save a child’s life.”

As a public health concern, there are several targets for intervention that could decrease the risk for child injury or death in parking lots, including improved adult supervision, safer child behaviors, safer driving behavior and alteration of parking lot environments.


Rouse recommends adult supervisors implement injury prevention strategies, including:

Holding a child’s hand in parking lots

Making sure children remain in the car until an adult opens the door

Exiting the car from the passenger side when being dropped off near a building to avoid cars passing on the driver side

Teaching basic pedestrian safety practices, like looking both ways for traffic before crossing the parking lot

Making children aware of traffic and the dangers associated with moving vehicles

Using sidewalks when available

Reducing distractions as children are guided through a parking lot, including cellphones and conversations with others

Caretakers should begin teaching their children basic safety practices at a young age. These practices include:

Checking for moving vehicles by looking both ways before crossing the street

Watching for vehicles that are backing up

Walking in parking lots and avoiding horseplay

For a driver in a parking lot, attention should be even more focused and attuned to those in the parking lot. Rouse recommends that drivers slow down and eliminate any distractions as they navigate parking lots. Using backup cameras and paying attention to surroundings can make a significant impact in the reduction of death and injuries in parking lots.

Environmental factors that can help reduce risk start with alterations in a parking lot. Reducing speeds allows for greater reaction time for attentive drivers to respond to reckless child behavior. This also reduces the intensity of impact should an incident occur. Additional alterations include posting and enforcing speed limits in parking lots, adding speed bumps to slow traffic, and adding sidewalks or pedestrian-only areas.

“Overall adults should be more attentive when they are in a parking lot, whether they are driving or walking,” Rouse said. “It is our responsibility to educate adults and children on the dangers and interventions to reduce risks.”

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