Research & reports

Title: Essential evidence: Visual looming & child pedestrian safety

Organisation: Travelwest
Date uploaded: 29th August 2018
Date published/launched: August 2018

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

The review is part of 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.

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 (link below), 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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