Traffic Exposure and Attitudes of Children

Traffic Exposure and Attitudes of Children


A R Woodside, M Vaganay, Transport and Road Assessment Centre, TRAC; H Harvey Environmental Health Protection and Safety Centre, EHPaS, UK



Traffic injuries are the leading cause of severe childhood injuries in developed countries. After motor-vehicle-occupant injuries, pedestrian injuries are the second cause of road casualties for children. In 2002, 58 child pedestrians were killed in France (0.98 per million population), and Northern Ireland produces the worst child pedestrian fatality statistics in Europe (2.37 per million population). Most of these accidents happen close to the child?s home when he or she is playing outdoors, socialising with his friends, or running errands. A child?s risk for pedestrian injury is related to their overall exposure to traffic. Many studies have investigated children?s walking habits and behaviour. Little is known, however, on their use of the road environment for non-walking activities.

This paper explores traffic exposure and traffic behaviour of school children (5 to 15 year of age) in Northern Ireland, and France in relation to their leisure activities. The main aim of this investigation is providing information regarding children?s use of the road environment other than for walking purposes. Another objective is to compare children?s traffic exposure regarding leisure activities in France and Northern Ireland and identify causal explanation for the higher accident rate in Northern Ireland.

This study uses two surveying methods incorporating an observational study and a questionnaire study. For the observational study, the collection of data for children at play use a moving observers method:
* Observers patrol selected streets in pairs and on foot, passing close to child pedestrians, whose activities are recorded using prescribed categories; one member of the pair records the children?s activities and the other records the traffic density.

A questionnaire concerning children?s activities was designed and sent to primary school children and secondary school children as homework. Primary school children were asked to complete the questionnaire with their parents. Three types of area were selected in France and Northern Ireland. Quotas based on population were set to ensure that each area reflected an urban environment, suburban environment and rural environment and that each of the areas were comparable between countries. Within these areas three housing estates were selected in collaboration with residents? association for the observational study. The primary and secondary schools within these housing estates were selected for the questionnaire study. Particular attention was given to minimise the extent of bias in the sampling process with respect to socio-economic group, the type and density of child population, since these factors have been suggested in previous research to be linked with the incidence of child pedestrians? accidents.

Results from questionnaire study show a much higher level of traffic exposure for leisure purposes than for travelling purposes. The study also identified groups of children with higher levels of exposure. Children from lower socio-economic groups and male have higher level of exposure both for travelling and leisure purposes but the difference is only significant for their leisure activities. Children in Northern Ireland are exposed to traffic mainly for leisure purposes, very few respondents walk for travelling purposes. Children in France have a lower level of exposure for their leisure activity than in Northern Ireland.

Preliminary results from the observational study show safer behaviour for French pupils compared to Northern Ireland when exposed to roads for leisure purposes. There were many more public playing areas in France and children tend to play in public playing areas and private gardens more often than in Northern Ireland, where children commonly play in the street whether on the footpath or the carriageway.

The results of this study enable a better understanding of child pedestrian traffic exposure and behaviour and identified groups of children at higher risk of accidents; Male and children from lower socio-economic groups. The information provided by this study is also essential in order to develop a road safety strategy to reduce child pedestrian accidents not only concentrating on children walking activity (travelling by foot) but also taking into account children?s use of roads for leisure activities. The results of this study identified factors that may explain the higher accidents rates in Northern Ireland. Therefore the comparative study with France provides some practical information for immediate remedial actions to reduce child pedestrian accidents in Northern Ireland. Finally the research provides a useful basis for the French governmental road safety policy.


Association for European Transport