Roads always had been a dangerous place for children. Child traffic injuries are a global public health problem. Globally, more than 260,000 children die because of road traffic crashes each year, and estimated that up to 10 million more injured (WHO 2008).
Each year, over one million people estimated to have died in road crashes and the road users such as, pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists who are particularly susceptible, represent the majority of fatalities worldwide (Bhattacharya et al., 2006).
Safety experts consider children as vulnerable road users due to the fact that they are inexperienced, immature and fragile. A child’s body parts are all in a state of growth that makes a child physically more vulnerable to any contact as compared to an adult. The small physical stature of children limits their ability to see or to be seen by other road users (Wilson et. al 1991 and Toroyan and Peden 2007).
Children between the age of five and seven years exhibit poor ability in recognising and assessing hazards when crossing a road. In addition, their ability to switch attention from one task to another is also poor, leading to an increased risk of being involved in a crash, as they tend to fail to stop or slow down before attempting to cross the road (Dunbar, Hill and Lewis 2001; Siegler and Richard 1979; Zeedyk, Wallace and Spry 2002).
Another critical cognitive development stage, which is not fully developed until children get to the age of 10–12 years old, is the full integration of visual signals into a meaningful context (Kovacs 1999; Kaldy and Kovacs 2003).
Finding by Norlen M, SV Wong, Hizal Hanis H, Ilhamah, who published An Overview of Road Traffic Injuries among Children in Malaysia and Its Implication on Road Traffic Injury Prevention Strategy, MRR 03/2011, Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research mention that:
• Children transported in private vehicles (car, van, 4WD) are the first and second leading cause of traffic related-death among children aged 1–4 years old (43.8%) and 5–9 years old (30.2%) respectively.
• 12% of children (1–18 years old) suffering from fatal road traffic are pedestrians.
• Pedestrians are the first and second leading group of child road users who die because of road traffic injuries among children aged 5–9 (43.5%) and 1–4 years (30.2%) respectively.
• Among children aged 1–4 years old, 47.7% of crashes involving pedestrians occur close to their homes in residential areas.
• Road crashes involving pedestrians occur at school areas vary by age groups. The highest is among age group 10–14 years old (18.5%) followed by age group 5–9 years old (16.5%) and 15-18 years (16.1%).
• Children motorcycle riders is the top group of traffic related death among children aged 15–18 years old.
• Children pillion riders are the third leading group of traffic related-deaths among children aged 1–4, 5–9, and 10–14 years old.
Educating children and young adults about traffic is an important preventive measure.
Adults need to talk to children about road safety in ways they will understand, keeping messages simple and clear. Even at home, parents and carers need to watch young children carefully, as they can move quickly, especially when left unsupervised.
Whenever children are in a car, they should be safely buckled-up in child car seats that are correct for each child’s age and size.
While driving, adults can explain how child car seats and seat belts keep us safe, why it is best to use rear door closest to the kerb, footpath or gutter and away from the road to get in and out of the car and other passenger safety messages. By holding their hands when walking and teaching them safe behaviour, you can protect them from danger and help them become safer pedestrians.
Adults need to make sure children hold a grown-up’s hand, wear a bike helmet, or wear a seat belt, even though they may resist.
Perhaps Education Ministry and Road Transport Department can work together and develop comprehensive road safety guidelines. The objective is to contribute to increased understanding of risk causes and safe traffic behaviour.