I am involved in consultation regarding a road safety App. And in 2007/8 I did something similar with regard to the CopyCat campaign. Children die and are injured in road traffic accidents and this started when the first cars got onto the roads. Cars are mean and nasty things driven, often, by incompetent drivers , and certainly by drivers who are sometimes careless. The children are similarly careless and when you put together children who don’t look out for danger, with drivers who dont expect there to be anything of concern on the road, then you have disaster.

I went to the meeting armed with quite a bit of research. All the experiments I could find, not so many but some, suggest that training in road safety is a good thing. If you set up scenarios about various conformations of roads, roundabouts, parked cars etc, children as young as 4/5 can learn to identify and notice dangers and explain to adults why that situation Is dangerous. This is a quite consistent finding, as is the second part. The second part is that although small children can identify dangers and remember why this is problematic even six months later, they can not translate this behaviour into their real world.

They know that a car may be reversing around the corner – they forget to look; they know that they need to step beyond theparked cars to see if anything is coming – they dont do it; they know that there might be a quiet vehicle like a bicycle – they forget to follow up the listening with a quick second look. Children know the rules, learn the rules but may not apply them. Their parents think they will.  It’s not so very different to my approach to Healthy Eating. I know What it is, Why I should do it and How, but somehow I dont. The children know how to stay safe, but forget to do it. A large part of this is developmental, as we are asking the kids to switch their attention from e.g. what they might play with their friend after school, to the dangers waiting round the corner. They can only do this when they are ready to do it.

One of my big concerns about this App is that  parents might feel that since their child has scored well at all the levels, he is safe to let out alone. Not true. It was reassuring to read that most parents do help their child to learn the stuff, and then repeat the new material when they walk together. It was not reassuring to read that hardly any parents spy on their children when they go out, and see how they manage their road safety when there is no-one there to remind them.

The take-away message is that children Can learn how to manage a whole range of traffic situations. Unfortunately, they usually forget in the heat of the moment. Learning road safety requires lots and lots of repetition, lots of checking, and an insistence on holding the hands of younger children, walking with and grabbing the hands of older ones, and a serious re-think of how you take the wheel of the car. As an adult, your job is to teach the children to take care and to be aware that they probably wont remember.

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