An introduction to teaching road safety

Engaged in the right way, children and young people can really enjoy studying and campaigning for road safety because it is an issue they can understand and that affects them. And teaching road safety is a great way for you to reach goals for citizenship, health and safety and across the curriculum. This page provides an introduction to teaching road safety effectively and why it is such an important topic to teach.

Sensitivity issues
Before teaching road safety, check whether any children have been bereaved by, or hurt in, or witnessed a serious a road crash, and be sensitive to their needs. Talk to them and their carers about whether they wish to be excluded from classroom lessons that discuss death or injury. Brake has developed resources for children bereaved by road crashes and their carers. Call our help line 0845 603 8570 to obtain these resources.

Why road safety is an important teaching topic
Every death of a child is devastating for a nursery, school or college. You can play a vital role in protecting children by incorporating road safety into lessons and engaging in activities to get life-saving messages across to pupils, parents and throughout the local community. You also have a responsibility to ensure high standards of road safety when on trips away from your school on foot or by vehicle. You are also at the heart of a community and therefore well placed to work with local government to implement necessary road safety engineering improvements, such as crossings or lower speed limits, on local roads.

Road safety also falls within curriculum requirements. It appears in different parts of the curriculum in different parts of Britain. In England, for example, road safety education is part of the statory frameworks for PSHE and citizenship at key stages 1 and 2. It also can be linked to the wider curriculum, in subject areas such as geography, maths and science. For more on prioritising road safety to meet curriculum requirements, see the Department of Transport's guidance on delivering road safety education in your early years setting or school.

When explaining to colleagues why you want to focus on road safety, you might want to mention these 7 important points:

  1. For every child killed, about ten more are seriously injured, causing brain injuries, paralysis and limb loss. These are horrendous, life-changing injuries for a child. Every community is affected by road death and injury at some stage.
  2. Many of these deaths and injuries will not hit the headlines, and only be reported in local press, so the problem is bigger than you may imagine; death on the road is the biggest killer of older children and young people in the UK.
  3. The UK has one of the worst child road death rates in Europe.
  4. It is particularly important to focus on road safety if you have busy fast roads in your community, or if you are based in an area with deprived families. Deprived children are much more likely to die on roads than more well-off children who have large gardens and cars.
  5. Poor road safety engineering (high speed limits, lack of cycle paths, lack of crossings) is one of the biggest causes of poor child health, because children and their parents choose, due to the danger, not to walk or cycle, and take the car instead.
  6. Boys are much more likely to die or be hurt than girls. They are more inclined to take risks on foot, bicycles, and when a novice driver.
  7. The older children get, the more at risk they become, as they gain independence. So road safety is not just a topic for young children.

Classroom teaching is more effective if combined with practical experiences and campaigning
Effective road safety learning involves three components: classroom teaching, roadside experiences and training and then, best of all, getting the children working within your community to campaign for road safety.

Effective road safety teaching needs to:

  • Build on existing knowledge, not preach
  • Require children to think for themselves
  • Be discussive and creative and related to real life

Children need to be taught their road safety ABC:

A is for awareness (traffic is dangerous and hurts people)
B is for behaviour (rules you must follow to stay safer)
C is for choice and community campaigning (how to make the safest choices and to help others make these choices too)

Under 8’s can be taught A and B from the age of two upwards. They can be taught rules and encouraged to follow them through practical training. However, under 8’s should never use roads without an adult, and adults should follow the Green Cross Code at all times when on foot with their children. Adults should, at all times, hold children’s hands or use reins with younger children because under 8’s:
-have difficulty judging speed and distance;
-are easily distracted and act on impulse;
-have difficulty understanding danger and death and are oriented around play;
-are small (so can’t see hazards) and are still developing eyesight and hearing;
-should never be allowed to walk near roads on their own for these reasons and more. -are carefree, not careless!

Over 8’s will have more ability to understand C, and make their own choices based on different options and assessment of risk. However, they need to have A and B re-emphasised to them because over 8’s:
-may walk on their own but make mistakes that can cost their lives because of lack of experience;
-are vulnerable to peer pressure from other children to make risky choices, such as running across a road.

The following sections list teaching topics within the road safety ABC.

A is for awareness: Traffic is dangerous and hurts people
You can teach, with increasing frankness as children get older, that:

  • Traffic hurts thousands of people every year.
  • People hurt by traffic are often killed and seriously injured. Injuries include paralysis and losing limbs. (Note: many children may think minor injuries such as breaking an arm are OK, or even fun, because it draws attention to them.)
  • Some people do dangerous things when walking or cycling, such as texting on their mobile while crossing a road. These people are more likely to be killed or hurt.
  • Some drivers break laws, which increases the chance of you being killed or hurt - for example, speeding, or driving when drunk. We have laws such as speed limits to stop people being killed or hurt in crashes, but some drivers break laws.

B is for behaviour: Rules you can follow to stay safe
Children need to be taught the language of road safety before they can understand the rules! For example, names of vehicles, names of street furniture such as pavements and kerbs, and an understanding of fast, slow, looking, listening and crossing. A well-educated reception age child should already have a grasp of fundamental road safety rules thanks to their parents. However, others may not have benefited from this care. Therefore, you will have to begin by checking that all children understand the following:

  • Pavements are for people; roads are for traffic.
  • Never go out near roads without a grown up. Hold their hand and don’t let go.
  • Stop at once if you are told. Never try to cross a road until you are told.
  • Never run or play near roads - play in a park or garden.
  • You can help grown ups look and listen for traffic.
  • Lollipop people, pelican crossings and zebra crossings help people cross the road. When a red man appears, it means you must stop.
  • You can wear bright clothes to be seen by traffic.
  • In a car, never undo your belt and don’t play with door handles or try to get out.

By the age of 5, children are ready to learn, in addition to the above:

  • The Crossing Code (find a safe place to cross, stop, look, listen, cross with care)
  • The safest places to cross: underpasses; footbridges; where there is a lollipop person; pelican and puffin crossings; zebra crossings.
  • In a car, only get out on the pavement side.
  • In a bus or coach or minibus, wear your seat belt if one is fitted. When getting off, never cross the road in front or behind the bus. Wait until it has pulled away so you can see in all directions.

By the age of 9 and upwads, depending on development, children are ready to explore:

  • Bereavement issues and the social and economic impacts of road crashes.
  • The responsibilities of drivers.
  • The dangers of giving in to peer pressure to take risks.

Read more about teaching older pupils further down.

C is for choice: How to make the safest choices and help others stay safe too
Under-8’s are ill-equipped to make their own choices. However, it is important that older children recognise their ability to make safe choices, recognise pressures they may come under to make dangerous choices and learn how to resist those pressures, and how to speak up for the safety of others too. Younger children can also be encouraged to think about choices, as long as they are not encouraged to make those choices on their own. All children can be encouraged to speak out against dangerous behaviour, such as children pushing each other into the road, or running across roads without looking, or drivers driving too fast, or people not doing up their seatbelts.

Teaching road safety to children and young people aged 11-20

Pupils aged 11-20 may initially think that road safety is for ‘babies’ and ‘boring’, but most young people have a lot to say about road safety and won’t find it boring as long as it’s taught well! In fact, effective road safety teaching with these age ranges enables you to explore challenging and worth-while areas, including:

  • Death and bereavement
  • Life-changing injuries (paralysis and brain injury) and how this affects people and their families
  • Taking responsibility for others in the context of good citizenship - particularly if we are driving
  • Our addiction to cars and how they affect communities
  • The battle of the sexes - differences in risk-taking behaviour among males and females
  • Alcohol and drugs - the rise in binge-driving and drug use among young people, linked with the issue of drink-driving
  • The power of adrenalin and testosterone to negate concerns for personal safety

There are a number of reasons that pupils may not initially be receptive to road safety teaching because of poor attitudes. For example, they may:

  1. Think they ‘know it all’ and road safety is for ‘babies’;
  2. Already be taking extreme risks on roads (for example, mucking about on foot on busy roads, driving without a licence or taking illegal drugs and driving);
  3. Feel invincible - road crashes happen to someone else, not them. They think their youth and fast reaction times will keep them out of trouble;
  4. Have a misunderstanding of the true extent of deaths and injuries on roads and just how at risk they are, particularly as young people.

On the positive side, young people are likely to:

  • Have witnessed risky behaviour on roads and grasp road safety issues easily as they deal with roads every day;
  • Have experienced, or heard of, someone in their community being hurt or killed in a road crash, and therefore understand that death and serious injury is a reality on roads.

Effective road safety teaching for this age range should:

  • Build on pupils’ existing knowledge, not preach;
  • Require pupils to think for themselves and conduct original research;
  • Be discussive and creative, and related to pupils’ real lives;
  • Involve real-life projects (such as devising and running a campaign to get parents and pupils to ‘belt up’) not just class-room learning;
  • Explore the dangers of risk-taking;
  • Explain clearly that road safety is about stopping deaths and life-long serious injuries and therefore it is crucial to take it seriously - particularly as these pupils are in the highest risk group for dying on roads.

Now plan your lessons!
Go back to Teaching resources for lesson ideas, downloads, web links and more advice.