Health Impacts of Childrens' Traffic Exposure
M Vaganay, University of Ulster, UK
This research suggests that children?s exposure to traffic not only impact on child pedestrian injuries but also has other consequences on children?s health (physical and mental health) and on future public health.
Child pedestrian injuries are not only a leading cause of disabilities and death but also impact on children?s independent mobility. This reduction in mobility has negative impacts on children?s health and safety, future public health, on the environment and social interactions. The reduction of walking activity affects children?s physical and mental health and children may develop poor travel habits later in life. The rise in car dependency increases congestion and pollution, affecting public health with increases in chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, asthma) and increases in obesity. Reduced mobility also exacerbates socio-economic inequalities and has negative effects on family relationships.
This research investigated and compared children?s exposure to traffic in terms of quantity and quality especially with regard to non-destination walking purposes (playing, socialising). A mixed-method approach consisting of questionnaire surveys and observations was used to collect the data and the studies were hierarchically planned.
The findings of this research highlighted that traffic exposure has a direct relationship to child pedestrian injuries and has numerous other negative impacts (children?s poor pedestrian skills, negative impacts on family relationships, poor travel habits, car dependency, children?s poor physical and mental health) but also have positive impacts on children?s pedestrian skills.
The findings also emphasised children?s vulnerability to roads, as quantity of exposure may not be as critical in child pedestrian injuries as quality of exposure. This research confirmed that children are knowledgeable on what constitutes an appropriate pedestrian behaviour. The observed behaviour however did not match their knowledge. There is no evidence that road safety education results in a reduction in child pedestrian injuries.
Finally key findings established that parents played a limited role in accompaniment, supervision and as educators.
The research evidenced that children will use the traffic environment. It also established that encouraging children?s safe exposure to traffic could have positive impacts directly on child pedestrian injuries (more exposure improves pedestrian skills) but also reverse those negative impacts, such as poor travel habits, car dependency, children?s physical and mental health.
The broad context of social, transport and land use policies rarely addresses child pedestrian injuries. This study has added momentum to the understanding of the potential outcomes from a strategy approach to child pedestrian exposure. Some key outcomes could include:
- a reduction in traffic volume and vehicle speed;
- a reduction in noise pollution;
- a reduction of air pollution;
- the establishment of pedestrian friendly environments, urban aesthetics;
- improvements in social spaces and community cohesion;
- improvements in the quality of life.
Tackling child pedestrian injuries and encouraging children?s safe exposure to traffic is an integrative part of the wider environmental health agenda:
- Promoting healthy lifestyle;
- Tackling health inequalities and social exclusion;
- Sustainable transport and sustainable communities
The research highlighted that the onus cannot be on the children to become safe pedestrians. Prevention strategies should therefore focus on educating parents, teachers and drivers to ensure they understand, recognise and respect children?s needs as pedestrians and adopt safe behaviour.
This research established that children have a unique exposure to the traffic environment. Most traffic environment users, being vehicle users or pedestrians, primary use it is for transportation purposes. Children use the traffic environment much more for playing and for socialising purposes therefore children?s views and their use of the traffic environment needs to be acknowledged by planners and policy makers creating space where they can socialise, where they can develop not only pedestrian skills but human relationship skills and civic responsibilities.
Association for European Transport