Sunday, July 15, 2012

Slow down, you're moving too fast

A reader frequently visits a friend who lives in a neighborhood that has many children playing in the area, although the friend has no children herself.

The reader has grown concerned about the number of young children, most looking to be 4-8 years old, wandering around the neighborhood "completely unsupervised."

"They dart out into the street," my reader reports, "ride their bikes in the street unsupervised, and play right at the end of their driveways where it would be very easy for them to get injured."

Complicating matters are the adults who walk their children and dogs in the street. "There are perfectly good sidewalks on both sides of the streets throughout the entire neighborhood, and yet they just don't use them."

"How can you expect a small child to understand the dangers of playing in the street when their parents make no effort to teach them?" my reader asks.

All of this came to a head a few weeks ago, when my reader reports she was driving to see her friend and was going four to five miles under the posted speed limit. A group of parents who were gathered with many small children in a neighbor's yard shouted, "Slow down!"

"The comment made me so angry I pulled over," she writes. She told them that it's inappropriate to shout things at cars, especially since she was going slower than the speed limit.

Several adults leaned into the window and told her they would call the police on her for driving so fast when there were so many children present.

The reader told them she didn't want to argue with them in front of their children. "Yeah, but you would be just fine hitting one of them with your car," a neighbor suggested.

"I'd like to just let it go, but they aren't going to," she says. "They have already purchased those yellow 'Slow: Kids at play' men and they place them in the street."

She says she is now afraid that they will retaliate when they see either her or her car. "I don't know what to do."

Parents certainly have a responsibility to supervise their children to keep them out of harm's way. If children are truly in peril because of negligent parents, then the parents should be held accountable.

It's not clear that that's the case here. Buying and placing signs to urge cars to slow down suggest that the parents care about their children's safety and want to send signals to drivers to take care. That they walk in the streets with their children might not be optimal, but still, they are accompanying their kids.

The fear of retaliation may be real, but the evidence suggests the neighbors only approached the reader's car after she stopped to confront them about shouting "Slow Down." It's not clear that shouting this was all that threatening. Positioning plastic yellow men hardly seems retaliatory.

The right thing is certainly for the parents to monitor their kids, but it's also right for my reader and others driving through any neighborhoods with a heavy population of children to drive with caution regardless of the posted speed limit. If someone shouts "Slow down," it might be good to consider it a sign of concern rather than a threat.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Anonymous said...

I grew up in a house right on US route 5 before the interstates came in. There were gazillions of cars speeding by. Always.

I used to laugh (INSIDE OF COURSE) when the teachers would say "now kiddies, don't ever play in the road". Never thought of playing in the road. Any road. Even once.

As for the ethical issue, a road is for cars like it or not and people should always beware. Believe it or not, the mothers would be upset if their kid were hurt or killed and all the barriers, warnings, screaming, paintballs, or even gunshots will not prevent it. Accidents are accidents and a dead or crippled kid is forever.

The mothers must have grown up in Siberia or the Yukon. Certainly not where I did.

Alan O
Greenfield, Ma.

Grandma Bee said...

Forget trying to claim you're going under the speed limit. A pedestrian can't judge the speed of a moving car very well, and certainly can't see your speedometer. If a pedestrian thinks you're going too fast, you're going to fast. And trying to argue isn't going to make any difference.

That said, any parent who does not teach kids to stay on the sidewalk is negligent, no matter how many "slow down" signs they post.

In my daughter's neighborhood, kids jump rope, hopscotch, skate, and play basketball in the middle of the road. It's a long cul de sac, it doesn't get much traffic. But it does get some traffic. And the kids are downright rude about standing in the middle of the street when you're trying to come through.

In my neighborhood the teenagers make a power game out of standing in the middle of the intersections and blocking traffic. Some neighbors have had to call the cops to get basic cooperation.

There are too many idiots yakking on their cell phones or driving high. They aren't going to pay attention to "slow down" signs. If you love your kids, teach them basic manners and teach them to stay the hell out of the road!

Anonymous said...

It's a shame to be critical of the woman who was only showing concern for the children, but in today's world, no matter what the circumstances, it's probably best not to get into arguments with the neighbors. Stopping her car in such situations is tatamount to confrontation so the lady would be well advised to avoid any further discussions with the neighbors, who seem unwilling to cooperate.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Anonymous said...

I bought those little yellow "SLOW" men (with flags) for my daughter's house, which is positioned on a long but completely residential street, in order to help protect my twin grandsons who were three at the the time (and now six). My daughter's street is notorious for having people (mostly younger drivers) speed down it.

Little kids don't automatically think about the dangers of running out into a street to get a ball, or blindly running across to see their best friend, and we are constantly training them about it.

My daughter and her husband forbid their sons from playing in the street, and they can only cross it with an adult. When there is active front yard play, those little yellow men take their positions.

Just about six months ago, a woman who lives in a house about two blocks down from my daughter, yelled at her for having the yellow men in the street! They were not out any further than a parked car would have been. My daughter was stunned by the woman's extreme lack of concern for the children, who also threatened my daughter with calling the police. My daughter beat her to it, and called them herself! The police reassured her she was right to have the yellow men there and right to alert them to the irrational woman.

The woman no longer bothers my daughter, and my daughter does indeed yell to indiscriminate speeders to slow down. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't. Most of the neighbors in the adjoining tracts who use the street will slow down if they see activity in the front yard, and certainly slow down when they see the yellow men.

This situation has even made me a more considerate driver on residential streets, because the last thing I would ever want to do is hurt a little child with my car.

The speed limit on most residential streets in California is 25 MPH. There's just no good reason to go faster than that, and lots of good reasons not to.

A Grammy