Kids younger than 14 can't always identify gaps in traffic that are large enough for them to cross safely, says a new study.

child crossing the street
Credit: Alinute Silzeviciute/Shutterstock

My kids are 14 and 11, and I'm not gonna lie—I HATE the idea of them crossing streets alone. They've both done it, just not with me because it makes me a nervous wreck. I call it "street fear"—that moment when you're waiting to cross a busy street and finally decide to step out into a gap in traffic and bolt across. I'm 47 and my heart still races every time. Not as much as it did when I was younger, but enough that I still grasp tightly to both of my kids' hands.

Now science has just issued a pretty big strike against letting kids younger than 14 cross solo. According to a new study out of the University of Iowa, younger kiddos lack the perceptual judgment and physical skills needed to consistently get across safely.

"Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults when crossing the street," said study author Jodie Plumert. "Our study shows that's not necessarily the case on busy roads where traffic doesn't stop."

While 14 may sound kind of old to some, when the researchers used a simulated setting to assess the ability of children ages 6 to 14 to cross one lane of a busy road, the younger children consistently had difficulty crossing safely, with accident rates as high as 8 percent among 6-year-olds. The 10-year-olds, meanwhile, were struck 5 percent of the time, and 12-year-olds, 2 percent of the time. Only the 14-year-old kids were able to consistently get across the lanes safely.

The big takeaway here for parents is to take extra precautions and recognize that your child may not be able to identify gaps in traffic that are large enough to cross safely. The researchers are now urging city planners to build more crosswalks near schools. But in the meantime, if your children have to cross the street without you, teach them to be patient and wait for bigger gaps in traffic.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.