An interesting piece of research crossed my desk and it has stimulated some debate in the Riskex office – is it Safety “gone mad”, or is there a valid concern to be aware of?

At the University of Iowa, USA, a research project was undertaken to determine how safe it is for children of varying ages to cross the road when there is oncoming traffic.

Having put groups of children through a 3D virtual reality experience, where they had to deal with the complexities of distance and the speed of oncoming vehicles, they found there might be a significant risk to younger children.

This might not be that surprising, but it drew memories from colleagues of walking alone to school from age 8, crossing roads without any risk of near misses with cars.  So if we survived when we were children, what’s the fuss about now?  Is Health and Safety going too far?

The research has shown that the risk is real, due to gradual brain development, where children’s lack of fully formed motor skills and visual judgement means they can’t reliably judge speed and distance of traffic until the age of 14.

Using a study in a virtual reality road environment, groups of children were tested for their reactions to traffic scenarios.  Accident rates were as high as 8% among six year-olds, and even those aged 12 were struck 2% of the time.  It wasn’t until age 14 that the children began to cross without incident.

The lesson here is perhaps that parents should take extra precautions by being aware their child might not be able to judge whether a traffic gap is large enough to cross safely.  Obviously, everyone is different, and children do develop at different rates.

Also, younger children may not have developed the fine motor skills to step into the street the moment a car has passed – unlike the way that adults have mastered – so we can’t just assume that they are capable of crossing the road in the way that we do.  The issue is that although they might pick the right sized gap between vehicles, they can’t time their movements, so they are more at risk of a collision.

So, as parents, where does that leave us?  There’s the environmental benefit of ditching the car for the school run in favour of getting children to walk to school, but is it safe until they are 14?

One suggestion is to lobby Council planners to identify high traffic places where children are likely to cross roads to get to school, and make sure those areas have a pedestrian-crossing aid.

And perhaps it comes down to individuals.  If in any doubt about your child’s coordination or readiness, then supervision surely is a must.   What do you think?  Are we in danger of mollycoddling a generation?  Or do we leave them to their own devices?

For more about the research, take a look at the following link: