Road safety

Road safety remains an important childhood health issue. Traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for males in England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 19. Children from more deprived areas are at a much greater risk of injury on the roads than children in more affluent areas, especially as pedestrians.

Safety extends beyond just preventing injury. There is evidence that the real or perceived danger of the roads limits children’s movement. A lack of traffic safety is routinely cited by parents as one of their leading concerns about children playing outside. This has an impact on children’s development and health by preventing physical activity and play.

Common policy responses to the danger posed to children by traffic include child pedestrian and cyclist training, and redesigning sections of road with high numbers of injuries. However, approaches to road safety that address the whole of the network, such as reducing traffic speeds and volumes, are not just effective at preventing injury but also reduce the fear of traffic. In this way they can promote and respect several rights that children are guaranteed.

The UN Convention for the Rights of Children

The UN Convention for the Rights of The Child (UNCRC) is a legally binding instrument comprising several articles that must be fulfilled or protected by the signatory countries.

The protection of human rights is a continuous process that can be considered across all policy areas. This means that a human rights perspective can be considered when designing roads, alongside the evidence of whether an approach is effective.

The UNCRC makes several points of relevance to road design.

  • Firstly, children should be able to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.
  • Secondly, children should be able to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to their age.

These rights apply to all children, meaning that we also must consider how our roads meet the needs of children with disabilities.

Adopting an ethical stance to traffic injury

There are international examples where ethics were considered during the adoption of a road safety strategy. Most notable in Europe are Sweden’s Vision Zero and Sustainable Safety in The Netherlands. Both agree that it is immoral to pursue policies that accept road deaths.

These two approaches share ideas central to the World Health Organisation’s Safe System approach, which understands that people might make errors, but that the design of the road environment should reduce the chances of these errors causing serious injury.

Adopting the safe system approach represents a shift in road safety policy. Rather than targeting high-risk locations, or individuals through pedestrian training for example, the road network as a whole was seen as not providing the necessary level of safety for its users. As a result, lower speed limits of 20mph (30kmph) were adopted in urban areas where child pedestrians might mix with traffic, and cycle infrastructure was provided on higher speed roads where the risk of severe injury is much higher. Interventions that encompass the whole road network like this encourage active travel and can put less of a constraint on how children play or get about locally.

These approaches that address the whole road environment and establish a safe system have helped to promote the rights of children. There is potential for them to do so in Britain.

Duncan Vernon
Road Safety Manager – England
January 2014

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