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Could virtual reality help reduce child road deaths?

16 children under the age of 15 died on our roads in 2014.

Image: Shutterstock/Stefano Tinti

THE IRISH MEDICAL Journal has recommended that children be taught road safety through virtual reality models.

A study in the January edition of the journal notes that young children “lack the cognitive skills, attention and perception skills to interact safely with road vehicles”.

It states that children “may fail to appreciate the danger associated with fast moving traffic and be unable to integrate speed and distance of vehicles”.

The authors of the study, who examined child road deaths from 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2011, described safety training for children using virtual models as “an exciting new prospect in tackling this problem” without “exposing children to physical traffic hazards”.

The highest proportion of road deaths among children during this six-year period (53%) occurred in the 1-4 year age group.

Between 2006-2008 pedestrian death rates among 0-14 year olds increased (from 0.8 to 1.31 per 100,000). However, from 2009-2011 rates declined (1.06 to 0.41 per 100,000 population).

There was a doubling in the number of road fatalities among children in 2014, with 16 people aged 15 years or less losing their lives in 2014 – eight were pedestrians and eight were passengers.

The authors identified 45 child pedestrian fatalities in the period examined. Traffic related deaths accounted for 58% of all deaths, while non-traffic related deaths represented 42%.

Driveways

Some 68% of non-traffic related deaths were due to low speed vehicle roll-overs. The mean age for this type of death was 21.7 months. In all cases, the cause of death was due to head injuries sustained in the incident.

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In 81% of cases the incident took place outside the child’s residence. In 54% of cases the driver of the vehicle was a family member and the vehicle was performing a reverse manoeuvre. Reversal alarms and rear-view cameras are listed as ways in which driveway reversing could be made safer.

The report describes multiple family dwellings, lack of playgrounds, the presence of major roadways, increased traffic levels and roadside parking as “significant risk factors” to children.

In a resource-poor setting, built environment features such as lack of road markings are of relevance. The environmental features that best improve pedestrian safety are the provision of playground or recreation features and traffic calming. These relatively simple interventions have a significant and lasting impact on improving child pedestrian safety at a local level.

The authors also note that increased use of mobile phones could have a negative impact on children’s road crossing abilities as “early research suggests they distract children to a significant degree and may increase their risk of collision”.

Double the number of children died on our roads last year

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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