Speeds greater than 20mph pose crossing risk for children

07.47 | 9 August | | | 12 comments

Children may not be able to detect vehicles approaching at speeds in excess of 20mph, according to a new summary of peer-reviewed research.

The review is the latest in a series of ‘essential evidence’ summaries prepared by Dr Adrian Davis, a visiting professor at the University of West England, to help disseminate academic research to road safety practitioners.

In his latest summary, ‘Visual looming & child pedestrian safety’, Dr Davis says children in urban settings are at risk when traffic speeds are higher than 20mph – as they may not be able to detect approaching vehicles.

Dr Davis adds that the risk is ‘exacerbated’ because a vehicle moving faster than 20mph is more likely to result in a pedestrian fatality in the event of a collision.

Across the globe, pedestrian injuries are the third leading cause of death for children aged between 5-9 years. Dr Davis notes how a child’s visual limitations in gauging speed and distance are cited as a ‘key deficit’ contributing to such injuries.

In the UK there are more than 6,500 pedestrian casualties per year, and 30% of pedestrian deaths are children aged 0-15 years.

Dr Davis points to a study led by researchers from the University of London and published in 2011, which he says is the first to demonstrate that a person’s visual perception – essential for skills such as catching and hitting a ball, and crossing the road – is not fully developed until adulthood.

The researchers found that children ‘could not reliably detect a vehicle approaching at speeds higher than approximately 25mph’ and did not ‘reach adult levels of perceptual performance under most viewing conditions’.

Dr Davis says these findings have important implications for road safety policy – in terms of the upper limits of vehicle speed that allow children to make accurate judgments – supporting the case for reduced speed limits outside schools and in other areas densely populated by children.

In his conclusion, Dr Davis says that driving in excess of 20mph in a residential or school area not only ‘increases the potential severity of any impact with a pedestrian’ but also ‘increases the risk that a child will injudiciously cross in front of the vehicle’.



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    This report brings nothing new to the road safety professionals. Current ETP training schemes address it in varying degrees as previously mentioned.

    “Pedestrian failed to look” is a greater problem than visual looming. 12 years old is the highest risk age for pedestrians according to the statistics reported in the Stepping Out analysis. http://www.pacts.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/docs/pdf-bank/Stepping%20Out%20-%20smaller%20file%20size.pdf

    Where do we go from here? – We thank Dr Davis and carry on as the RS professionals have a better handle on this than the academics.

    p.s. can’t resist a plug to make road safety a mandatory primary school curriculum subject.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (2) | Disagree (2)

    Can anyone tell me the age at which a child has developed the cognitive ability to differentiate between a vehicle approaching at 20 mph as opposed to 30 mph. or for that matter any speed from say 10 mph upwards. Can adults suffer from the same problem?

    On one hand we are teaching our children how to ride bikes on the road at the age of 7 years and so one could argue that they can discern the difference at that age. If not then they would be dangerous out on our roads on a bike. Even riding on the pavements and crossing a road could be a problem. On the other hand according to Highways England the second to the top contributory factor for casualties is failing to judge others path or SPEED and with regards to speed that is certainly the case when it comes to cyclists and motorcyclists. Here we are talking about adults of any age not being able to judge approaching SPEEDS correctly.

    So where do we go from here?

    R.Craven, Blackpool
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Can anyone actually understand what M Worthington is talking about?

    Tim Hawes
    Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

    Have you misunderstood Mr W.? That’s exactly what I said – only in one paragraph. What is ‘the other way round’ in your first line?

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (2)

    Hugh. Maybe it’s the other way round and it’s that many drivers cannot judge the safe stopping distances at the speeds that they are doing.

    That being said that figure is vehicle to vehicle and not related to anything that may occur within those vehicles. That said Safe distance would reduce the occurrences of pedestrians being collided with due to improved visibility afforded to all..

    If more vehicles are the safer distance behind each other then all drivers have a greater and all road users would have an improved view of potential dangers. If a pedestrian steps off or runs off a kerb within that safer stopping distance depending upon the distance involved a vehicle could still be liable to run into him. However with greater visual space being made available a pedestrian has a better chance of seeing the oncoming vehicle, a view that may have been blocked by a larger vehicle in front and if the following vehicle was tailgating.

    With safer space the driver would have a greater opportunity to see the pedestrian before he or she stepped into his path and would be able to slow and stop and avoid the pedestrian or in the event of colliding him the degree of injury sustained would be reduced due to a slower speed.

    Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

    Of more significance and concern is the fact that many drivers equally do not seem to be any good at judging their own speeds and their own stopping distance. If they did they wouldn’t be colliding with pedestrians in the first place.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (0) | Disagree (3)

    Now that I have had time to check the DfT statistical releases, the comment I previously made “absolutely massive reductions in child road casualty statistics over the last 20 years” can be expressed as follows:-

    child pedestrian casualties age 15 and under. 1994-1998 average = 18,548
    same group for year 2016 = 6,070

    This means around 67% reduction in child pedestrian casualties whilst at the same time around 40% increase in cars on the road and around 20% increase in traffic volumes.

    Casualty reduction achievements which are not to be under valued, however always more to do.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

    Summaries of “academic peer review papers” are losing more credibility every day. It often seems like cherry picking other people’s work to bolster one’s own pre-determined views.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (13) | Disagree (4)

    If you read thee report properly it mentions stats for children up to 9 years of age and goes on with a stat regarding persons up to the age of 15? Now which is it that we are talking about? 9 or 15? I would have presumed that someone of 10 or 11 years of age would have the cognitive ability to judge approaching speeds or am I mistaken.

    Dr.Davis talks about pedestrians or more about children all over the world as if we are interested of what happens in say India or Bolivia. Surely he can support his conclusions or rather the conclusions his paymasters want by just relying on and reporting on our own UK stats. That is unless he can’t.

    Agree (10) | Disagree (3)

    What about the elderly, the infirmed, partially-sighted, those with poor hearing and
    otherwise able-bodied grown-ups who, for whatever reason also cannot judge speeds and/or are distracted?

    Once again we’re ignoring the elephant in the room and instead highlighting ‘flaws’ in vulnerable road users’ perception, rather than those of the motorists in their killing machines. If I see a child or any other pedestrian near the kerb or trying to cross the road, I don’t waste time considering whether they can accurately judge my speed, I adjust it to suit their actions.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (14) | Disagree (5)

    The challenge then for the road safety professionals is to actually implement a reliable and sustainable model that will ensure appropriate traffic speeds at all times.

    We could make a good start by identifying locations in our respective territories where there are rarely, if ever, any significant road use injuries and where the road is generally considered to be user-friendly for all modes of traffic and where users of different modes co-exist in relative harmony.

    We could then try to identify which characteristic or characteristics of those locations are absent from the locations where things aren’t quite so hunky-dory.

    I suspect that speed limits, per-se, will be ruled-out as a defining characteristic of the locations which are the most desirable places to have to use the roads.

    Charles, England
    Agree (8) | Disagree (1)

    Children’s lack of ability to judge the speed of approaching vehicles with any accuracy is well know to RSOs and has been for a very long time – if an RSO does not know that, I would question whether they are fit to do a road safety officer’s job.

    Many RS ETP schemes explain this to children and Kerbcraft in particular teaches this in a practical roadside setting. That is one of the reasons why Welsh Government support Kerbcraft as an ‘approved’ core ETP scheme and have done so for around 15 years or so. Nice of the academics to catch up with the professionals though.

    Dr Davis has history as a pro-default 20s supporter and I would not expect anything different from him. Obviously I can’t agree that this issue automatically leads to a justification for “default 20s”. We have seen absolutely massive reductions in child road casualty statistics over the last 20 years without default 20s thank you very much. Those child casualty reductions are probably partly due to considerable investment in SPECIFIC evidenced based, engineered, local 20mph speed limits/zones and safe routes to school.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (16) | Disagree (2)