Reducing child deaths on European roads

PIN Flash Report 34
Adminaite, D.; Jost, G.; Stipdonk, H.; Ward, H.; Calinescu, T.

More than 8,100 children have been killed in road traffic collisions over the last ten years in the European Union. In 2016 alone, 630 died. Half (48%) were vehicle occupants, 30% were pedestrians and 13% cyclists.

On average in the 27 countries of the EU that provided data, the road safety of children has improved faster than the road safety of the rest of the population over the past decade. The annual average reduction in child road mortality in the EU over the decade was 7.3% compared to 5.8% for other age groups, i.e. an average difference of 1.5 percentage points.

Child road deaths represent around 2.5% of overall road deaths and around 6% of all serious road traffic injuries in the EU, while children make up over one sixth of the population. So children are relatively safer than adults, probably because of lower exposure to road traffic.

Children do not benefit from the same level of safety everywhere in Europe. Countries with a good child road safety record tend to have a good overall road safety performance characterised by a well-established and integrated approach. The child mortality rate in Romania is seven times higher than in Norway, Sweden or the UK.

Norway has the lowest child road mortality rate among the PIN countries. Child road deaths in Norway have decreased by around 14% annually over the last ten years.

In the EU, 46% of all child road deaths occur on rural roads, 46% on urban roads and 7% on motorways.

Children aged 10-13 have higher road mortality than children aged 5-9. As part of normal child development, children aged 10-13 are more likely to move around unaccompanied by adults, in particular travelling to and from school. But, once they reach the age of 14 and progressively acquire access to powered two wheelers and cars, their road mortality starts to increase steeply.

Every year 48% of all children killed on EU roads die as motor vehicle passengers. It is the responsibility of adults to keep children safe. A correctly installed child restraint system is the single most effective passive safety feature for a child travelling as a vehicle occupant.

Child restraint installation mistakes can drastically reduce the effectiveness of a child restraint system (CRS). Therefore, data on correct CRS usage are crucial when analysing child safety in vehicles but these data are available in only few PIN countries.

The introduction of in-vehicle safety technologies such as Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) and Automated Emergency Braking (AEB) can mitigate or prevent traffic collisions and prevent the deaths of more children and other road users.

Concerns over child safety and security have contributed to the increase in the number of parents driving their children to school. When car traffic increases, pedestrian and cyclist safety is reduced, together with the quality of life of children exposed to a polluted environment. This decline in safety in turn leads to more parents driving their children to school, resulting in a vicious cycle. Another cause of concern is that habits children develop in their youth may determine how they choose to travel later in their adult lives.

By walking or cycling to school, children can become more aware of their surroundings, develop road safety skills, and also improve their ability to anticipate other road users’ actions. Besides the road safety benefits, walking and cycling contribute to improved physical and mental health of children by tackling child obesity and increased socialisation. Keeping children healthy, safe and mobile requires a balance between encouraging and allowing them to move about freely and safeguarding them in the road environment. Safe walking and cycling routes in a wide area around schools, with low speed road design for motorised traffic, are essential for keeping children in traffic safe.

30% of all children killed on EU roads are pedestrians and 13% are cyclists. Most serious collisions involving child pedestrians and cyclists are collisions with motorised vehicles. Due to their small stature, children are less visible to drivers.

In such collisions, the vehicle’s speed and its ability to protect those outside the vehicle are the most important factors determining the severity of the injury. Road infrastructure should take into account the needs of the communities it serves: enhancing safety and liveability of these communities. Ensuring a safe environment around residential and school areas is an important measure for boosting road safety for children. The road environment must be designed in a way that recognises and takes account of the capabilities and limitations of children.

A bicycle helmet offers the best available protection against head injury for impact speeds up to approximately 20km/h. The use of a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of severe head injury by more than 65%.
Young children have physical and cognitive limitations that make them more vulnerable in road traffic than adults. Children under around 12 years lack the perceptual judgement and skills to interact with a complex traffic environment. Traffic education for children of 6 to 12 years old should be attempted in actual or simulated conditions rather than theoretically in the classroom. Difficulties for children arise when dealing with complex situations which require simultaneous processing of more than one feature. Children also find it challenging to apply abstract knowledge to concrete situations and to use what they have learned in new situations.

Child road safety education is important at all levels from pre-school on for preparing children properly for traffic participation, but measurable effects are limited. The evaluation data on the effectiveness of child road safety education are scarce. Moreover, education can only partially speed up the mental development of children.

The recommended minimum age for the new moped or scooter driving license category (AM) is 16 years but Member States may lower it down to 14 years or raise it up to 18 years old. The AM category thus has the largest variation in minimum age requirements. Recent research on human brain development indicates that adolescents may be inherently less prepared for the responsibilities of solo driving than older people. Raising, or not lowering, the minimum age for solo driving will save lives, by virtue of the fact that it prevents young and inexperienced drivers from solo driving until they are older.

Main recommendations to Member States

  • Achieve high levels of overall road safety. Important road safety benefits for children will result from measures aimed at improving overall road safety. Safer cars, safer road infrastructure, safer behaviour of other road users will reduce the risks to which children are exposed in traffic.
  • Implement 30km/h zones together with infrastructure measures to reduce vehicle speeds in residential areas, on the way to schools and around bus stops.
  • Mandate alcohol interlocks in all school buses and other buses transporting children.
  • Implement safe bicycle infrastructure separated from motorised traffic to make cycling to school safer.
  • Set national indicator targets for the proportion of children correctly fitted in the appropriate child restraint systems. Monitor progress to assess the need for more information campaigns and training activities on correct installation of child restraint systems.
  • Increase availability and affordability of child restraints, by including them in the category of essential products (permitting a lower rate of VAT) as EU Directive 77/388/EEC allows.
  • Set enforcement plans with yearly targets for numbers of checks and compliance with traffic laws, including failing to fit children in the appropriate child restraint systems.

Main recommendations to the EU

  • Within the framework of the 5th EU Road Safety Action Programme, adopt a separate target for reducing road deaths and serious injuries among children and develop accompanying measures.
  • Make rear-facing child seats mandatory for as long as possible, preferably until the child is 4 years old.
  • Encourage Member States to introduce lower VAT for child restraints by including them in the category of essential products as EU Directive 77/388/EEC allows.
  • Introduce common indicators for the proportion of children correctly fitted in the appropriate child restraint systems.
  • Revise standards for testing bicycle helmets to increase the safety standard currently in use to offer higher levels of protection.
  • Make theoretical and practical training as well as a practical test mandatory to obtain an AM driving license.
  • Within the context of the revision of Regulation 2009/661 concerning Type-Approval Requirements for the General Safety of Motor Vehicles:
  • Adopt mandatory fitment of overridable assisting Intelligent Speed Assistance and Automated Emergency Braking systems with pedestrian and cyclist protection in all new vehicles, including trucks.
  • Develop mandatory requirements for safer goods vehicles for improved cabin design and direct vision.
European Transport Safety Council ETSC, Brussels

SWOV publication

This is a publication by SWOV, or that SWOV has contributed to.