children & accidents

save the children drivers need to slow down to save lives, says jonathan crouch

Road accidents are the biggest single cause of accidental death for children up to the age of 15, accounting for over half of all child fatalities. Although the numbers continue to come down year on year, around 40,000 children are still killed or injured on our roads each year, with, perhaps surprisingly, the highest number being passenger casualties as opposed to pedestrians.

So, how can we all help improve child safety, not only on the road, but just as importantly, in the car?

On the road

Child pedestrians are particularly at risk from drivers speeding in urban areas. Department of Transport statistics show that a child hit at 20mph has a 95% chance of surviving, but at 40mph, his or her survival chances are virtually nil. Even letting your speed creep up from 30mph to 35mph doubles the risk of fatality.

With the number of children out on the streets increasing when the nights get lighter, drivers need to slow right down, even to below the designated speed limit, particularly in residential areas, which is where the majority of accidents happen.

Drivers' lack of understanding of children's behaviour is also a big contributory factor to accident numbers. Drivers need to become more aware of how unpredictable children can be, so that they can react quickly should a child dash into the road or suddenly decide to cross without looking. Children will be children, so the onus to cut accident rates must be on the driver to take extra care in areas where children are around and always expect the unexpected.

In the car

Department of Transport statistics consistently show that children are even more at risk in the car. Speed is again a big contributory factor to child deaths and serious injuries, especially when linked with the lack of use of suitable child restraints. Even in a crash at 30mph, an unrestrained child in the back of a car would hit the front seat with a force of between 30 and 60 times their own body weight. Such an impact could cause death or serious injury, with the chances of survival decreasing as speed increases.

Mothers with newborn babies often think it is safest to sit in the back seat, wearing a seat belt, and holding their baby in their arms. They're wrong. In fact, if the car were in a collision, they may well be unable to hold on to the child, as its body weight could increase to that of a baby elephant.

The bottom line is that allowing a child to travel unrestrained in a car is dangerous for the child, distracting for the driver, and against the law. It has been proved that 90% of injuries could have been avoided - and two in three deaths prevented - if child restraints had been used, so even for the shortest journey, drivers should always ensure that children are fastened in properly. By law, it's their responsibility, and they can be prosecuted if they fail to comply.

Ten facts about children on the roads

- Around 40,000 children are killed or injured on our roads every year

- Two thirds of all fatal accidents involving school-aged children are the result of road accidents

- Most child pedestrian accidents happen close to home, on residential roads carrying only light traffic

- Children aged 12-15 are most likely to be killed or seriously injured

-Accidents peak between 8 - 9 am and 3 - 6 pm, as children travel to and from school

-More children are knocked down in summer, when they spend time playing outside without supervision

- Boys are at much greater risk than girls. When cycling, they are over four times more likely than girls to be killed or seriously injured

-In a survey, parents of primary school children said road accidents were the most worrying threat to their children

-20mph zones can reduce accidents involving child pedestrians and cyclists by around 70%

-Severity of injury is closely linked to speed. Hit at 20mph, one pedestrian in 20 is killed, while at 40mph only one in 10 survives.

Keeping children safe inside the car

-On average, children make around 1,000 car journeys each year

-An unrestrained child can be killed by being thrown forwards, head first, at speeds as low as 5mph (that's just above walking pace)

- In a crash at 30mph, an unrestrained child in the back of a car will hit the front seat with a force of between 30 and 60 times their own body weight. Such an impact could result in death or serious injury

- 90% of injuries would have been avoided - and 2 in 3 deaths prevented -if child restraints had been used

- The appropriate restraint depends on the weight, size and age of your child, the determining factor being the weight

- Before buying a child restraint, you should try it in your car to ensure it can be fitted properly

- All child restraints should be properly installed and must carry the United Nations 'E' mark or BS Kitemark.

- Beware of old or second-hand child restraints that may be damaged or worn

- Rear-facing baby seats provide very high levels of protection and are generally safer than forward-facing seats, but should never be used when a passenger airbag is fitted

- Never hold a child in your arms while you wear a seat belt. In a collision, you would not be able to hold on to the child as its body weight could increase to that of a baby elephant

Unborn children must also be protected and pregnant women must wear a seat belt, unless their doctor certifies them as medically exempt.

Seat belts and the law

- It is illegal to carry an unrestrained child in the front seat of any vehicle

- Children under three travelling in the front of any vehicle must be carried in an appropriate child restraint. The adult seat belt may not be used.

- If an appropriate child restraint is fitted in the front, but not in the rear, children under three must use that restraint

- If an appropriate child restraint or seat belt is available in the front, but not in the rear, children between 3 and 11 and under 1.35 metres in height must use the front seat restraint or seat belt.

- It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that children use the correct restraint or seat belt.