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Children's perception of safety and danger on the road

Thomson, J.A. (1991) Children's perception of safety and danger on the road. British Journal of Psychology, 82. pp. 487-505. ISSN 0007-1269

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This study investigates the ability of children between 5 and 11 years to select safe places to cross the street. The children were presented with situations which were either extremely safe or manifestly dangerous and were asked to correctly identify these. In other cases, they were asked to choose for themselves routes across the road which they thought would be safe. The tasks were presented in various ways: by means of a table-top simulation on which traffic scenarios had been contrived; by means of photographs of road situations; and by taking the children to real-world sites in the streets near their schools. All the experiments showed a similar pattern of results. Five- and 7-year olds exhibited very poor skill in identifying dangerous road-crossing sites. Their judgements relied exclusively on the visible presence of cars in the vicinity. Other factors such as blind summits, obscuring obstacles or complex junctions were never recognized as threatening situations. They also showed an unwillingness to make detours when planning their own routes, even where the direct route was manifestly dangerous. Nine-year-olds showed a higher level of ability and 11-year -olds showed quite good skill in these judgements. No sex differences were apparent. These results suggest that young children up to about 9 years must often be at considerable risk as they do not have the ability to recognize a location as dangerous, even if they know the mechanics of the Green Cross Code. The implications for road safety education are discussed.