Why are so many children involved in road traffic crashes?

Online Q&A
Updated May 2015

Q: Why are so many children involved in road traffic crashes?

A: Children are at risk for road traffic injuries for a number of reasons. Younger children are limited by their physical, cognitive and social development, making them more vulnerable in road traffic than adults. Because of their small stature, it can be difficult for children to see surrounding traffic and for drivers and others to see them. In addition if they are involved in a road traffic crash, their softer heads make them more susceptible to serious head injury than adults.

Younger children may have difficulties interpreting various sights and sounds, which may impact on their judgement regarding the proximity, speed and direction of moving vehicles. Younger children may also be impulsive, and their short attention spans mean that they struggle to cope with more than one challenge at a time. As they grow older, children of adolescent age are especially prone to take risks, compromising their safety on the road. In general roads are planned without sufficient consideration of the specific needs of children.

Globally, around 186 300 children under 18 years die from road traffic crashes annually, and road traffic injuries are the leading killer of children aged 15-17 years worldwide. Two times as many boys as girls die in road traffic crashes. In addition, rates of road traffic death among children are 3 times higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

Road traffic injuries can be prevented. While no single measure adequately addresses the vast range of risks to children on the road, the ten strategies below are those which are best known - especially when implemented as a package - to keep children safe on the road.

  • Controlling speed
  • Reducing drinking and driving
  • Using helmets for bicyclists and motorcyclists
  • Restraining children in vehicles
  • Improving children's ability to see and be seen
  • Enhancing road infrastructure
  • Adapting vehicle design
  • Implementing graduated driver licensing

These are discussed in detail in a new document called "Ten strategies for keeping children safe on the road” published by WHO on the occasion of the Third United Nations Global Road Safety Week (4–10 May 2015).

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