Improving Road Safety for Children Banner

Improving Road Safety for Children

A psychologist from the University of Lincoln was appointed as a mentor with the World Health Organization after undertaking extensive research on child and adolescent road safety.

The World Health Organization appointed Dr Karen Pfeffer in 2007 to act as a mentor during the development of a road safety guide for children in Ghana. This followed on from her research and subsequent contribution to professional guidelines and training for parents, healthcare providers, educators and road safety officers around the world.

"Globally, road traffic collisions are a significant cause of mortality and morbidity to children and young people, both as pedestrians and vehicle occupants. Dr Pfeffer’s innovative research has significantly raised public awareness of everyday dangers and hazards."

Dr Pfeffer, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology, received international recognition thanks to her investigations into improving safety for vulnerable road users. Conducted over the course of a decade, her work highlighted the need for new guidelines in road safety.

A combination of laboratory and field assessments was used to study key relationships between a child’s attention, cognitive development and road-crossing decisions.

Dr Pfeffer worked closely with then doctoral student Dr Zahra Tabibi, now of the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran, on several elements of the project. Their research focused on children’s attention capabilities and revealed that a combination of three key skills is essential when safely crossing a road. Selective attention, divided attention and the ability to resist distraction are crucial, particularly for younger children, when quickly and accurately selecting suitable road-crossing sites.

Dr Pfeffer showed that while adults acted as good role models for children, the research revealed a trend in adult behaviour, whereby a safer roadside approach was taken with girls than with boys. Her research with adolescents also showed that friends can directly influence safe and dangerous road-crossing decisions.

"International road safety training bodies have incorporated the findings about children’s attention development when formulating professional guidelines and training."

A number of official publications have incorporated Dr Pfeffer's findings, including the US National Center for Safe Routes to School's guide for parents, called 'Teaching Children to Walk Safely as they Grow and Develop'; the EBSCO Publishing Health Library's 'Teach Your Children to be Safe Pedestrians' guide; and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guide, 'Countermeasures that Work'.

The substantial international impact of Dr Pfeffer’s research continued when she was invited to contribute to the World Health Organization’s MENTOR-VIP symposium at the Safety 2010 World Conference. MENTOR-VIP is an international scheme that aims to develop an individual’s skills and capacity in the area of violence and injury prevention by pairing them with an experienced mentor. Dr Pfeffer acted as a mentor in the programme in 2007/2008.

In addition, Dr Pfeffer’s expertise led to her being commissioned to evaluate a regional road safety education programme for young drivers, the 2Fast 2Soon campaign, which is run by the Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership, as she continues to raise awareness of important road safety issues at home and abroad.