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Zambia Road Safety Trust (ZRST) has embarked on sensitizing road users in Lusaka through distribution of motor vehicle stickers to motorists in the city. Here one of its staff distributing stickers near Evelyn Hone College yesterday. PICTURE: COLLINS PHIRI

Who is responsible for children’s road safety?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report of 2019, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged between five to 29 years. Children have been classified as vulnerable road users worldwide. In Zambia, children, especially those who are under the age of 16, are among the most vulnerable road users. The Road Transport and Safety Agency Safety Status Report of 2020 reported that 45 percent of children under the age 16 lost their lives in the first half of 2020. Further, it was revealed that 82.91 percent of the road traffic crashes among the children between six and 16 years were attributed to pedestrians’ errors such as crossing the road improperly. The report also revealed that human error is identified as the leading contributing factor to road traffic crashes and accounts for 86.55 percent, while 10 percent is due to mechanical faults, while weather condition accounts for 0.05 percent. Human error encompasses numerous factors that include, but are not limited to, speed, lack of helmet usage, lack of seat-belt and child-restraint usage, drinking while driving, and poor visibility on the road. The behaviour of child pedestrians, passengers, and cyclists is part of the human factor which leads to the occurrence of traffic crashes. One of the reasons why children easily become victims of road traffic crashes is that they lack road safety skills, education, and knowledge. Reducing traffic injuries and fatalities among children, therefore, calls for an improvement in children’s behaviour by providing them with road safety knowledge, skills, education, and safer crossing points such as pedestrian crossings. Much as some children may be equipped with road safety knowledge, they have other limitations which make them vulnerable road users. Among the limitations are physical, cognitive, and social developments which make them more vulnerable in road traffic environments. Due to their small stature, it can be difficult for children to be seen by drivers whilst in traffic. Furthermore, children may have difficulties interpreting various sights and sounds, which may impact on their judgment regarding the proximity, speed and direction of moving vehicles. The concentration span of children is yet another challenge that makes them vulnerable road users as it is short and they can struggle to attend to more than one problem at a time. As they grow older, children of adolescent age, especially boys, are prone to take risks, which compromise their safety on the road. According to the Road Transport and Safety Agency’s Safety Status Report of 2020, boys accounted for 64 percent of child fatalities, while girls accounted for 36 percent. The boys are more vulnerable and prone to road traffic crashes than girls as they may engage in risky behaviours such as playing on the roadside. Children of school-going age are highly-vulnerable as they use complex traffic environment to walk and cross roads when they are going to and from school.
Social institutions such as schools, churches and families become clear sources of influence on children and should instill road safety skills and education in children. Due to the close interaction between parents and children, parents have an impact on the behaviour of children. Parents or guardians are the primary role models to the children and children can take after the behaviour of their parents or guardians. Just as parents or guardians, teachers and the clergy are equally role models to children and adolescents. In the case where children are riding in a motor vehicle, the driver has a duty to look after child passengers by ensuring that they are secured in the vehicle. The driver is responsible for the safety of all the passengers in a motor vehicle. Road safety being a shared responsibility, child safety requires concerted efforts from parents or guardians, drivers, teachers, the clergy and all adults in making sure that children are looked after when they are on the road.
Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that the children are not just safe on the road but are imparted with the knowledge and skills on how to use the road correctly as pedestrians, passengers and cyclists. Children, especially those of school-going age should not be left to walk or cross the roads unaccompanied as this may increase the risk of them being involved in road traffic crashes due to their failure to interpret road traffic situations correctly. In order to safe-guard the lives of the children, parents or guardians need to start training them on road safety as soon as they are able to understand basic concepts.
There is also need for adults to keep children who could be walking, cycling and riding in a motor vehicle safe at all times.
In conclusion, we should know that being a good role model is one of the most important ways adults can teach children.
Children see and take in what adults do much more than what they say. So the best way to teach our children how to be safe and responsible road users is to be one ourselves. Be road smart, life is precious!