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Walk to School Day puts safety first for children

Kids who walk to school: Wednesday was dedicated to you worldwide.

In observance of International Walk to School Day, some 500 communities nationwide — and many more in 16 countries around the world — held news conferences and mass walks to and from schools to make sure kids arrive safe. Events — including a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter landing — played out at Layton Elementary in Davis County and Arcadia Elementary in Granite School District.

"It was awesome — the kids were just going crazy," Layton Principal Darryl Denhalter said of activities at his school. "Just to see our community come together for something like this ... shows a unified effort on all fronts to keep our kids safe."

National statistics on kids hurt while walking are sobering.

Pedestrian injuries are the No. 2 cause of death among 5- to 14-year-olds. The annual costs of pedestrian deaths and injuries among children: $5.2 billion, according to numbers provided by the Davis County Health Department.

In Utah, more than 400 people are killed and 10,500 treated annual for injuries in pedestrian-related accidents, the department reported.

In Layton alone, nearly 40 percent of auto-pedestrian accidents — 48 out of 126 incidents between 2003 and spring 2007 — involved kids age 15 years and younger, Safe Kids Davis County reports.

And in Taylorsville alone, about 22 kids have been hit by cars between 2006 and 2007.

But there is good news: Child pedestrian fatalities nationwide fell 51 percent between 1995 and 2005, the Davis County Health Department reported.

Safe Kids USA is working to continue that trend. The grassroots Walk This Way program is a safety initiative in more than 500 American schools — up from 40 in the program's maiden year in 1999, said Jeri Boren, co-coordinator for Safe Kids Davis County and a Davis County Health Department health educator.

"We need to watch for the kids, we need to make sure (we know) as we drive through neighborhoods, kids aren't aware of cars. They're going to run across the street," Boren said.

At Layton Elementary, where about 640 kids walk to school, students on Wednesday learned about seat-belt safety, pedestrian safety for streets and TRAX lines just blocks from the school. They walked to school with the mayor, some holding up signs about safety, Denhalter said.

At school, they rubbed shoulders with the Layton Police Department, which staged a police-dog demonstration, and the Utah Highway Patrol, which delighted them with a helicopter fly-over and school-yard landing, among other activities.

In Taylorsville, Arcadia Elementary received more than $9,000 in parking lot upgrades, courtesy of a grant from Safe Kids sponsor Federal Express, to improve pedestrian safety, said May Romo, Safe Kids program manager for Salt Lake County. The lot was restriped, a pick-up/drop-off route introduced and a radar sign greets motorists with their speed as they approach the school zone.

The hope is, kids won't get hurt as they walk through a crowded parking lot, or run across streets, to catch their rides.

"I think the kids are getting it; I think it's a bit different to change (grown-ups') driving behavior," Romo said. "We need to take the time to be diligent and responsible for children on our streets, walking to and from school."

Also, the Utah Department of Transportation is taking applications from schools and communities that want a piece of a $1 million federal grant to provide safe walking and biking routes to school and and safety education programs, said Robert Hull, UDOT director of traffic and safety.