Why kids get hit by cars

school.xing2Getting hit by a car is the third leading cause of death for kids 5- to 9-years-old, and kids up to age 15 make up a disproportionate number of pedestrian casualties worldwide. It’s not hard to think of reasons for this scary statistic: Children are easily distracted and don’t always pay attention, and they are also smaller, so they’re more likely to sustain fatal injuries when they are hit. But there may be another, even more basic, reason for this childhood peril: Kids simply don’t see the cars coming.

The ability to see and avoid looming objects is a fundamental skill, crucial to survival not only for humans but for most animals. We take it for granted because we do it automatically, but it’s actually a complex skill, requiring a rapid calculation of size and distance and velocity. Add to this the fact that we pedestrians are also in motion, and must figure in our own walking speed, and it’s no surprise that even adults get clipped sometimes. New evidence is now showing that kids’ perceptual abilities are slow to develop, making them less adept at this crucial calculation.

Psychological scientist John Wann and his colleagues at the University of London ran a laboratory simulation of regular street crossing in order to compare the perceptual skills of adults with those of children of various ages. In this realistic simulation, a car approached on a roadway, sometimes varying in size and speed; sometimes the subjects saw the car directly in front of them, and other times off to the side a bit, and they reported whether the image of the car expanded or stayed the same. The scientists also calculated the subjects’ walking speed, and factored their movement into a calculation of their perception of the approaching car’s looming threat.

school.xingThey found a clear developmental pattern in perception of the looming vehicles. As reported on-line in the journal Psychological Science, the kids showed clear improvement in their acuity with age, but even the older children did not match the adults in their ability to detect an automobile’s approach, suggesting that the neural mechanisms for this skill remain undeveloped. Paradoxically, faster moving cars appear to loom less than slow moving cars, creating a dangerous illusion that speedy cars are not approaching. Indeed, the scientists determined that children could not reliably detect a car approaching at speeds higher than 20 miles per hour. What’s more, the kids’ perception of a car’s approach was worse if the car was even slightly off to the side—a realistic condition for typical road crossing—or if they themselves were in motion, as they likely would be.

Driving 20 miles per hour is really slow. Try it sometime. But it’s typically the speed we’re supposed to drive in school zones, and there are many other locations—residential areas, for example—where kids are also vulnerable. These new findings fit with evidence that kids are three times as likely to get hit by a car when traffic speed exceeds 25 miles an hour, and now we know why. Not only do speedy drivers need more reaction time, now it appears that young pedestrians simply can’t see the cars coming in the first place. It can be a deadly combination.

Wray Herbert’s book, On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits, has been published by Crown. Excerpts from his two blogs—“Full Frontal Psychology” and “We’re Only Human”—appear regularly in Scientific American Mind and in The Huffington Post.

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Comments

You forgot to mention, that no matter which way you slice it, ALL pedestrians/bicyclists have the right of way. The driver should always be held responsible for hitting someone. If studies show that kids have slower reaction times, it does not matter. Too many children are hit and killed (or injured) by cars. NO! Not by cars, that is the equivalent of saying that guns kill people. Children are being killed by PEOPLE Driving Cars. It is unacceptable. When we acquire a driver’s license, we are saying that we will take responsibility for our actions behind the wheel.
http://www.news10.net/news/article/162381/2/Auto-v-pedestrian-accident-claims-9-year-old-in-Marysville

There is no excuse good enough to give to a parent or family member, and ‘she’s small and has bad reaction times’ is not a good enough one. My niece was killed by a driver, not a car. The car was just the object used to kill her. I may be a little biased, but this one hits close to home. And I do know that I feel the same way no matter what.

As a parent who has also hit a child riding a bike I disagree 100% with the above writer. The child that I hit was crossing the crosswalk when it was red for him. Blocking my view was a semi who saw the child in the right lane and I was in the left lane (5 lane road). The light had been green for me, I was following speed limits and was found 100% NOT at fault. The child went in front of the semi and was in front of me without ANY warning as the semi was blocking my view of the crosswalk (keeping in mind the light was green for me). I had approached the crosswalk going 20 MPH, the light turned green 500 yards from the intersection. It was horrifying and, by far, the worst incident that I have ever experienced. Luckily, the child (who also was not wearing a helmet) was ok other than a slight concussion. He was honestly very lucky to be alive. I am sharing my story because parents ALSO need to teach children that cars can KILL and to obey traffic signals and laws.

I am a careful driver who has never been in an accident other than this and had 1 ticket in my 18 years of driving. Accidents happen sadly.

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