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Reinforcing Safety With ‘Children at Play’ Signs

May 27, 2020

Any place where children are known to play, such as a school or park, may use ‘children at play’ signs as reminders. These signs tell motorists they are near an area where they should drive slowly and carefully, as kids can lose track of their surroundings in their excitement. Here are facts about these signs and what to consider to create safer neighborhoods.

How ‘Children at Play’ Signs Developed

Perhaps the earliest book to mention the need for child based warning signs was The Law of the Automobile by X.P. Huddy in 1906, when horse-drawn carriages still ruled the road. The book emphasized the rights of pedestrians and children in streets prior to the era of public playgrounds.

Although one of the first playgrounds in America was San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1887, it wasn’t until after the formation of the Playground Association of America in 1906, that playgrounds began to spread across the nation. The following year, President Theodore Roosevelt made a speech calling for schools to develop playgrounds to keep kids out of streets. He viewed play as a fundamental need for children.

The first traffic signs in the United States began to appear by 1915 in Detroit, the manufacturing center to the nation’s automotive industry. Local statistics showed that in 1917, the city and its suburbs had over 7,000 traffic accidents with 168 fatalities. Three-fourths of vehicle victims were children under the age of 9.

The city became a leader in the development of various traffic control devices, installing the first automated traffic lights in 1922. Child warning signs began to appear in the 1920s when cars began to populate streets. Standards for traffic control signs developed under the Department of Commerce in the 1920s, then the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) the following decade. The ‘children at play’ sign, however, has never been approved by this policy-setting manual.

Where ‘Children at Play’ Signs Work Best

‘Children at play’ signs are important messages, but they tend to only help reduce speeds when they are combined with speed limit signs or speed bumps. On their own, warning signs about children blend in with many other yellow neighborhood warning signs. The message is not recommended by MUTCD, which claims the signs imply children playing in the street is acceptable, when it’s not. But attaching the warning sign with a speed limit has a much more serious tone resonating with drivers.

An alternative to posting speed limit signs are the words ‘slow speed when children are present’ or mention of the word ‘slow.’ This message acknowledges that the driver has the sense to already be on the lookout for children when approaching a school or playground. Even though school zones have reduced speed limits, such as 20 mph, it helps to let drivers know the exact speed limit. Placing the child warning sign at a stop sign gives drivers a moment to think about proceeding slowly.

The most effective modern scenarios where to place ‘slow children at play’ signs is with electronic signs that monitor traffic speeds. When drivers know their speed is being recorded they tend to slow down since the technology is able to communicate with law enforcement immediately.


The key for child warning signs to work is to place them in conjunction with other traffic control devices to help reinforce the idea of slower and safer driving. Contact Zumar to learn more about ‘children at play’ signs at our Arizona, California or Washington location. We can answer all your questions about the most appropriate signage for different zones.

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