‘Children At Play’ Signs Could Be More Dangerous Than Helpful

children at play sign

Chances are you've seen at least a few of those neon yellow or green "children at play" signs as you've driven through your local neighborhood. Perhaps you even have a sign of your own on your front yard, hoping that the very sight of it will encourage passing motorists to slow down because there are kids who are out playing and riding their bikes.

Unfortunately, while most well meaning parents hope that having one of these signs on their lawn will encourage their neighbors to ease off the gas, the signs may be more dangerous than helpful.

“Psychologists have told us this for years: Signs generally don’t affect any sort of behavioral change,” research associate at Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, Seth LaJeunesse told Fatherly. “So it’s not surprising that those signs don’t do enough to move the needle.”

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What would make a difference the site points out are actual proven speed reducers. Speed bumps and speed humps, lowered speed limits and increased law enforcement visibility are all traffic interventions that are more effective than a neon sign posted on a lawn.

children in the street playing
Credit: iStock / monkeybusinessimages

A study on speed management in urban areas shows that for every 1 mph reduction in speed, there is a 3-6% reduction in the occurrence of accidents, proving that even a small reduction in residential speed limits can have a big result.

“We have really good studies that show that, if we lower traffic speed, that results in the much lower incidence of severe injuries,” Robert James Schneider, who studies urban planning at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, explained to Fatherly. “In particular, for kids within neighborhoods, speed is a key factor.”

Many feel that the neon "CHILDREN AT PLAY" sign are dangerous because they make parents feel like they've done enough to warn unsafe drivers of the presence of children in the area, when in reality those signs have little to no impact. Others suggest that the signs are just another example of 'sign clutter' on local streets and drivers will simply ignore the signs. Having a sign on your front lawn offers no real guarantee that drivers will actually slow down when driving by.

However, there is some research that suggests the lawn signs can be effective. An Oceanside, California lawn side campaign called Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25, resulted in a 16% percent reduction in the average speed of drivers on the neighborhood streets where the signs were placed. What we don't know is how many signs are required to make an actual difference? Does it require an entire community to get involved? Does only having the signs on select homes really make a difference? Opposing studies suggest they don't.

Research seems to support that the real solution to the problem of accidents involving children in residential areas aren't 'Children at Play' signs but more effective speed reduction measures. Lowering of speed limits, increased speed bumps or raised intersections, better road design and even the narrowing of streets to encourage a slower speed are all more effective ways to prevent accidents caused by speed than a neon sign placed on a front yard.

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