Rural Road Safety of Children and Young People in Northern Ireland

Rural Road Safety of Children and Young People in Northern Ireland


S Dolan,Department for the Environment (NI), D McGuigan, Independent Consultant, UK


A quantitative (10 years' data) and qualitative review (8 focus groups) of road casualties in Northern Ireland to measure and identify reasons for high casualty rates among children and young people and to make recommendations to reduce these rates.


To review a number of aspects of rural road collisions involving children and young people aged 0 to 24 and to make recommendations on any intervention actions that may be justified by the research.

The Study
The first part of the study involved a comprehensive quantitative analysis of ten years' collision data for Northern Ireland. This sought to identify the likely causes, influencing factors and any common trends, patterns and characteristics of rural casualties and collisions involving children and young people. The key findings related to car drivers aged 17 to 24 and to vehicle passengers of all ages (0 to 24).

Casualty rates for drivers and passengers were found to peak at age 19 with the highest rates experienced on rural non built-up roads.

For younger passengers in cars there was evidence that children up to the age of 11 tended to wear seatbelts and were seated in the rear of the car but that as children move on to secondary school, seatbelt wearing becomes less prevalent and there is more travel in the front seat. For bus passengers the significant majority are injured when seated but the numbers and proportions of standing passengers injured rises for children in the 12-15 year old age group.

No specific or unique issues were identified with regard to rural pedestrian or cyclist casualties.
Those and other results informed the design of the second and qualitative phase of the study which involved eight focus groups - one rural and one urban group for each of four age groups 8-11, 12-15, 16-19 and 20-24. The purpose of the groups was to probe more deeply into the underlying travel patterns, behaviours and attitudes as pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and passengers.

The focus groups provided a wealth of information which helped explain some of the earlier findings and highlighted how - as young people became older - their attitudes and behaviour to safety waned and became more problematic.

Children aged 8-11 indicated that that they all wore seatbelts and sat in the rear of a car. The casualty rates from the quantitative analysis matched this reported behaviour with very low car front seat passenger casualty rates. This group also reported that many buses were not fitted with seat belts and that they occasionally had to stand. The number of standing bus passenger casualties is low and it did not appear that there was a significant problem.
By the age of 12-15 the children reported that seatbelts were not always worn and that front seat travel was more common. This change was mirrored in the casualty data as passenger casualty rates rose with significantly higher rates for front seat passengers. Children in this age group also reported that buses were not fitted with seat belts and that they sometimes had to stand. There was also a suggestion in the rural focus group that some boys stood on buses even when seats were available. This predisposition to stand is also evident in the collision data as the numbers and proportions of standing passengers increase for this age group.
The most interesting findings related to the two rural focus groups covering the ages 16 to 24 which indicated that a range of risky behaviour was commonly adopted with drink and drug driving being self-reported. Other aspects of risk-taking included speeding, using mobile phones, playing loud music, changing clothes when driving, undertaking "doughnuts" and racing. As passengers, the respondents far from being passive occupants, reported they were often active in "messing about" by applying the hand brake, switching on wipers, playing with the lights and creating other distractions to safe driving. The urban respondents reported similar behavioural traits but the evidence was much less marked than from the rural respondents. The respondents all knew the behaviour was risky but did not see that this risk could lead to serious consequences for them personally.

A number or recommendations were made which had a clear focus on young drivers and passengers including raising the driving age and introducing additional licensing controls on young drivers. Recommendations were inter alia also made regarding travel to and from school on school buses.

Next Steps
The recommendations from the study are being considered by the Department of the Environment NI and its road safety partners for future implementation within the context of Northern Ireland's Road Safety Strategy to 2020.


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