Children: our most vulnerable
Children are complex and ever-changing. So too are the dangers they face on our roads. The dangers change with environment, culture, time, mode of transport, age, education and more. With this in mind, it is clear that when we look at road safety education for children, we must take a holistic approach.
Formal child road safety education models have existed for well over 50 years in one form or another, yet often the programmes are static or too narrow in focus. Not only does the road safety environment change, between 5 and 16 years of age, children progress through a number of developmental stages in terms of their ability to negotiate the complexities of the road environment safely.
- Across all cultures, children are introduced to the road with different attitudes towards the road environment. To this point, their understanding has almost exclusively been transferred from their parents / primary carers.
- Males and females also differ greatly, with males generally more predisposed to risk taking.
- At the younger end of the age spectrum, children have limited depth perception, scanning ability and their capacity to judge speed is poor.
- They will be unable to strategically calculate risk in a traffic situation and will tend to focus on a single stimulus, such as a ball or a friend.
- Also, and quite simply, children are small. Their motor skills are not well developed. They move more slowly, with less precision. They are also difficult to predict, and for a motorist, they are very difficult to see.
This list is by no means exhaustive, yet the point is made: young children are particularly vulnerable.
As children age (7-10), their scan and search skills improve; so too does their conceptual understanding of danger. However such improvement by no means leads to safe road use. Their perceptive, information processing and psychomotor skills are still far from refined. And indeed, the very improvements they do feel may yield over-inflated confidence in their ability.
Whilst perception and motor skills do become refined in adolescent children, that sense of over confidence is only prone to further inflation. Then add to the mix exposure to more complex road safety situations, the independent responsibility for decision making and the new and powerful influence of peers… it is clear that child road safety education is far broader than in-school learning.
So then, what is the responsibility of the road safety community? How do we contribute to both making roads safer for children, and making children safer on the roads? Two words: collaboration and commitment. The right people must be at the table, and a commitment must be made. With the Third UN Global Road Safety Week next year focussing on children, let us work together to make our most vulnerable safer.