Development of speed perception in children

Children often have accidents in road traffic when they cross a road on foot and do not pay attention to approaching vehicles. A study by the UDV has therefore investigated how children perceive speeds and how they behave when crossing the road.

A total of 183 children between five and 14 years took part in the study. They were asked to decide in a field and a laboratory experiment whether they would cross the road in front of an approaching vehicle or not. The vehicle was at three different distances: a crossing (1) would have been safe, (2) would have been very risky or (3) would have led to a collision. Variations included the approach direction of the vehicles (right or left) and the speeds (30; 50; 60 km/h; acceleration from 20 to 50 km/h). In addition, the children's eye gaze behavior and reaction times were recorded, and their attention performance and hazard perception were examined.

Selected results

Children's street crossing decisions improve with increasing age. However, children between the ages of 13 and 14 still have difficulties, especially when vehicles are coming from the right. Taking two lanes into account apparently requires a higher cognitive performance.

At low speeds of 30 kilometres per hour, children decide to cross more often than at higher speeds. However, the decisions are not necessarily more appropriate. Although the correct, safe decisions increase, so do the risky ones and those that would have led to collisions. At 30 kilometres per hour children obviously feel more confident to cross the road, but the decisions are not safer than at higher speeds.

Children's eye movements and reaction times as well as attention performance and hazard perception improve with age. But there are only few relations between higher scores in these and safer crossing decisions.

The following recommendations can be drawn:

  • In urban residential and leisure areas, speed limits of no more than 30 kilometres per hour should apply.

  • Since older children still have difficulties, safe pedestrian crossings should be installed not only in front of kindergartens and primary schools, but also in front of secondary schools.

  • Children should practice their road crossing behavior often and in real traffic to improve their hazard perception and to develop routines. They should be accompanied by adults who only intervene if necessary.

  • In further research studies, lower speeds of under 30 kilometres per hour and children over the age of 14 should be considered.