What to teach: age-appropriate messages

Kids slow downBrake recommends you aim to cover the road safety ABC, adapted for the age group you're working with, as set out below:

A is for awareness (traffic is dangerous and can hurt people)
B is for behaviour (things you should do to stay safer)
C is for choice and campaigning (how to make safer choices and to help others make these choices too)

Under 8's can be taught A and B from the age of two upwards. They can be taught rules and encouraged to follow them through practical training. However, under 8's should not use roads without an adult, and adults should follow the Green Cross Code (see below) at all times when on foot with their children. Adults should, at all times, hold children's hands because under 8's:

  • have difficulty judging speed and distance; - are easily distracted and act on impulse;
  • have difficulty understanding danger and death and are oriented around play;
  • are small (so can't see hazards) and are still developing eyesight and hearing;
  • are carefree, not careless;
  • should not be allowed to walk near roads on their own for these reasons.

Over 8's will have more ability to understand C, and make their own choices based on different options and assessment of risk. However, they need to have A and B re-emphasised to them because over 8's:

  • may walk on their own but make mistakes that can cost their lives because of lack of experience;
  • are vulnerable to peer pressure from other children to make risky choices, such as running across a road.

The following sections list teaching topics within the road safety ABC.

A is for awareness: traffic is dangerous and hurts people

You can teach, with increasing frankness as children get older, that:

  • Traffic hurts thousands of people in New Zealand each year.
  • People hurt by traffic are often killed and seriously injured. Injuries include paralysis and losing limbs. (Note: many children may think minor injuries such as breaking an arm are okay or even fun - you may need to make clear how awful a serious injury is.)
  • Some people do dangerous things when walking or cycling, such as texting on their phone while crossing a road. These people are more likely to be killed or hurt.
  • Some drivers do dangerous things, which increase the chance of them killing or hurting themselves or someone else, for example, speeding, or using a phone at the wheel, or driving after drinking alcohol. We have laws such as speed limits to stop people being killed or hurt in crashes, but some drivers break them.

B is for behaviour: rules you can follow to stay safe

Children need to be taught the language of road safety before they can understand the rules. For example, names of vehicles, names of street furniture such as pavements and kerbs, and an understanding of fast, slow, looking, listening and crossing. Download Brake's colour in work sheet with key words and street furniture. A well-educated child age five may already have a grasp of fundamental road safety rules thanks to their parents. But others may not. Therefore, you should begin with younger children by checking they all understand the following:

  • Paths and pavements are for people; roads are for traffic.
  • Never go out near roads without a grown up. Hold their hand and don't let go.
  • Stop at once if you are told. Never try to cross a road until you are told.
  • Don't run into the road or play on roads - play in a park or garden.
  • You can help grown-ups look and listen for traffic to cross safely.
  • Traffic lights and other crossings help people cross the road. When a red man appears, it means you must stop.
  • If you ride in a car, never undo your belt, play with door handles, or distract the driver.

By the age of five, children are ready to learn, in addition to the above:

  • The Green Cross Code (find a safe place to cross, stop, look, listen, cross with care, looking and listening all the time - see below)
  • The safest places to cross: underpasses; footbridges; where there is a crossing-patrol person (e.g. outside school); traffic light crossings; zebra crossings.
  • In a car, only get out on the pavement side.
  • In a bus or coach or minibus, wear your seat belt if there is one. When getting off, never cross the road in front or behind the bus. Wait until it has pulled away so you can see in all directions.

The Green Cross Code

  1. Find a safe place to cross
  2. Stop just before you get to the kerb
  3. Look all around for traffic and listen
  4. If traffic is coming, let it pass
  5. When it is safe, go straight across the road - do not run

By the age of 9 and upwards, depending on development, children are ready to explore:

  • The impact of road crashes, injuries and deaths on families.
  • The responsibilities of drivers to protect other people, especially people who are on foot or bicycle.
  • The dangers of giving in to peer pressure to take risks.

C is for choice: how to make the safest choices and help others stay safe too

Under-8's are ill-equipped to make their own choices. However, it is important that older children recognise their ability to make safe choices, recognise pressures they may come under to make dangerous choices and learn how to resist those pressures, and how to speak up for the safety of others too.

Younger children can also be encouraged to think about choices, as long as they are not encouraged to make those choices on their own. All children can be encouraged to speak out against dangerous behaviour, such as children pushing each other into the road, or running across roads without looking, or drivers driving too fast, or people not doing up their seat belts or not wearing helmets on scooters or motorbikes.

What to teach to teens

Students aged 11-20 may initially think that road safety is for younger children, or boring. But most young people have a lot to say about road safety and won't find it boring as long as it's taught well. In fact, effective road safety teaching with these age ranges enables you to explore challenging and worthwhile issues, including:

  • Death and bereavement, and especially the impact of sudden, violent and 'man-made' bereavement, such as through road death, knife crime, war and terrorism
  • Life-changing injuries (such as paralysis and brain injury) and how this affects people and their families
  • Taking responsibility for others in the context of good citizenship - particularly if driving
  • Society's obsession with motor vehicles, the effects this has on communities (safety, health, pollution, social interaction, costs), and the alternatives to driving
  • The differences in levels of risk-taking among males and females, and young drivers and older drivers
  • Alcohol and drugs – including alcohol and drug use among young people, and how this links with the issue of drink and drug driving

There are a number of reasons that students may not initially be receptive to road safety teaching. For example, they may:

  1. Think they 'know it all' and road safety is for 'babies'
  2. Already be taking risks on roads (for example, mucking about on busy roads, driving without a licence or taking illegal drugs and driving)
  3. Feel invincible - road crashes happen to someone else, not them. They think their youth and fast reaction times will keep them out of trouble
  4. Have a misunderstanding of the true extent of deaths and injuries on roads and just how at risk they are as young people.

However, young people are likely to have witnessed risky behaviour on roads and grasp road safety issues easily as they deal with roads every day. They also may well have experienced, or heard of, someone in their community being hurt or killed in a road crash, and therefore understand that death and serious injury is a reality on roads.

Effective road safety teaching for this age range should:

  • Build on students' existing knowledge and experiences, not preach
  • Require students to think for themselves and conduct original research
  • Be discussive and creative, and related to students' real lives
  • Involve real-life projects (such as devising and running a campaign to get parents and students to 'belt up') not just classroom learning
  • Explore the dangers and consequences of risk-taking, and the benefits of making safe and sustainable choices
  • Explain clearly that road safety is about stopping deaths and serious injuries and therefore it is crucial to take it seriously - particularly as these students are in the highest risk group for dying or being seriously injured on roads.

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