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Despite Road Safety, Children Miss Danger Signs When Crossing Roads

Originally Published 2 February 2000

A series of studies by psychology researchers at the University of Warwick, raise concerns about how younger children learn to perceive danger when crossing the road. In particular 5-9 year olds studied showed that they had retained a good academic knowledge of what they had learned in road safety lessons and elsewhere, but often seemed unable to apply that knowledge to real traffic situations. Even 9-10 year old children displayed only half as much unprompted awareness of real traffic dangers as the adults tested in the research.

In one experiment children were shown simple line drawings of traffic situations, followed by another test using video material of similar situations. The children performed significantly better at picking out the dangerous situations in the line drawings and did not perform well with the video material. The researchers believe that the line drawings result in an over-estimation of the children's concept of danger - as drawings tend to prompt the children by highlighting relevant features. Video materials provide a more realistic medium and are much more memorable and meaningful to children- particularly younger children.

Dr George Dunbar, Dr Ros Hill and Dr Vicky Lewis say: "It is not enough for a child to be able to recite rules about danger, nor is it enough for the child to be able to point out potential dangers or demonstrate safe behaviour when prompted. Our studies have shown that children who are capable of these activities appear to be oblivious to many potential dangers when not prompted to look for them."

Parents today make themselves increasingly available to transport children by car to school and other destinations. This is a natural response to the perception that there has been an increase in the range of dangers faced by unaccompanied children in today's society - but the researchers also found that the reduced exposure to traffic also brings dangers. The team's experiments found some evidence that actual experience of traffic increases children's sensitivity to danger. When looking at 7-8 year olds they found that children with higher levels of experience of real traffic were able to match the road sense of children aged 9-10 who had had more limited exposure to traffic.

Notes for Editors:

  1. The research was funded by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions see This link
  2. The three researchers were Dr George Dunbar of the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, Dr Vicky Lewis (at Warwick for most of the research period now at The Open University) and Dr Ros Hill (also at Warwick at the time but now at Aston)

For further information please contact:

Dr George Dunbar, Dept of Psychology
University of Warwick, Tel: 024 76 523727