Child Pedestrian Visibility - a Matter of Life and Death?
As the clocks go back and the nights draw in, it is the time of year when these images are recirculated. They serve as a frightening reminder of the importance of ensuring our children are not only dressed warmly as the weather turns colder, but that they are also wearing fluorescent or brightly coloured clothing when out and about.
The 2 images were originally created by Christian Thomas of the Swiss Expert Council For Road Safety to highlight the stark difference that coloured clothing can make in respect of child roadside safety.
In this first image, we can clearly see at a distance that there is a small child waiting by the roadside. The child is wearing a bright yellow coat and bright red wellington boots, which helps ensure he stands out from the dark background. Any motorist approaching can see the child and will be alert to the potential danger posed by him. He is clearly visible and looks as if he may attempt to cross the road.
In this second image, everything else is exactly the same except the child is now wearing dark coloured clothing. Can you see him?
These images simply and effectively highlight that dressing our children in appropriate clothing can be a matter of life and death.
As a personal injury solicitor specialising in children’s road traffic claims, I have represented countless families of children who are knocked down and seriously injured when crossing our roads. All too often, the driver involved says they simply didn’t see the child before they stepped out into the road; they were unaware of their presence or the intention to cross.
In how many of these cases might it have made a difference if the child had been more clearly visible by the roadside to begin with?
There is a duty on motorists and road users to take particular care when it comes to child pedestrians. Section 205 of the Highway Code specifically identifies children as being vulnerable road users. It says, “There is a risk of pedestrians, especially children, stepping unexpectedly into the road. You should drive with the safety of children in mind at a speed suitable for the conditions.”
Children are unpredictable. Very young children may lack any sense of road safety. Even older children who have been taught road safety are not as able as adults who drive to judge speed and distance. Children by their nature are distractible and can be impulsive.
Where a driver is “on notice” of a potential hazard, such as a child waiting by the side of the road, he or she should slow down and proceed with caution, pull further out towards the centre of the road and, if necessary, sound his/her horn to warn the child of the car’s approach.
The visibility of a child pedestrian at the kerb is extremely important in the context of the behaviour, actions and reactions of an oncoming driver. When a motorist needs to react to something and take action, there is a delay between seeing/appreciating what is unfolding, for the brain to send and interpret the message, and for the driver to react as needed, for example the foot moving to hit the brakes. This is known as the Perception Reaction Time, or “PRT”.
In cases where something happens without any warning at all, such as a child in dark clothing stepping out in front of a car, the PRT of a driver is generally accepted to be on average around 1.5 seconds, i.e., it takes 1.5 seconds from the driver seeing the child to his foot moving to hit the brakes.
When a driver is on notice of a hazard, such as having seen a child wearing brightly coloured clothing moving towards the roadside, he/she is alert to the danger and the PRT reduces down to 0.5-0.7 seconds. That is a reduction in the PRT of around one second.
While that may not seem a big difference on the face of it, a car travelling at 30mph covers a distance of 13.5m in one second, and a car travelling at 40mph covers 18m. These relatively fine margins have a huge impact on a driver being able to avoid a collision and/or having the maximum time possible to slow the vehicle to a lesser speed on impact, thus reducing the likely severity of any injury suffered by the child.
Having children dressed in brightly coloured clothing and/or with fluorescent strips ensures they can be seen and that drivers in the vicinity are on notice to the potential hazard they pose. Particularly now, with the onset of the darker months, it really can be a matter of life and death.
Having children dressed in brightly coloured clothing and/or with fluorescent strips ensures they can be seen and that drivers in the vicinity are on notice to the potential hazard they pose. Particularly now, with the onset of the darker months, it really can be a matter of life and death.”