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Child Road Deaths: A Global Issue

2 minute read

Between 2015 to 2017, 536 Australian children aged 0 to 14 died as a result of physical injury. The most common causes of these injuries?

Death by road crashes, assault and drowning.

From 2018 to 2019, transport accidents were the leading cause of death for those between 0 to 14 years of age and the second leading cause for those aged 15 to 19. The rate of child deaths due to vehicle crashes at a global level is a major public health issue.

A large study involving eight countries (France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico and India) revealed that 3.9 million children were killed annually on the roads. The ramifications of such crashes are not only felt by the family and friends of those killed, but by the greater community too, racking up an economic cost of approximately $21.8 billion dollars per year.

In European countries, approximately 1 in every 5 child deaths is caused by a road traffic accident. Additionally, in Canada, where roads are the safest they’ve been in 60 years, road traffic collisions are still the leading cause of death for children. The issue is also prevalent in Australia, where a 2019 study highlighted that of the 399 unintentional child injury deaths that occurred in that year, more than 230 were caused by traffic accidents.

Worldwide, 22% of child deaths are caused by vehicle collisions.

What exactly makes children vulnerable road users?

At their youngest age, babies and toddlers are entirely dependent on their caretakers for safety. With small and fragile bodies, the following can lead to serious injury if not death:

  • Being in a car with a driver exhibiting dangerous driving behaviours
  • Being placed in an ill-fitted child seat and getting into a crash, or
  • Being run over at a low speed (i.e. in driveways)

In high-income countries, 50% of all child road traffic deaths occur when the child is a passenger.

Older children from around 5 to 14 years of age, are considered vulnerable road users due to their inability to make sound and safe judgements when dealing with traffic. This is due to undeveloped physical and cognitive skills which can leave them at risk even if they are aware of and have been taught appropriate road rules.

At this age, children are more prone to:

  • Being hit by drivers when travelling unsupervised because of their small height and stature
  • Making rash decisions due to underdeveloped peripheral vision and directional hearing
  • Getting distracted by friends, other vehicles or simply not foreseeing danger

With many children at this age walking to and from school or playing unsupervised with friends, their vulnerability as pedestrians is heightened. As a result, child pedestrian deaths make up 5-10% of all road traffic deaths in high-income countries and 30-40% of all road traffic deaths in low and middle-income countries.

Finally, as children develop into their teenage years and move from the passenger to the driver’s seat, their crash risk and fatality rate increases. Teenagers are prone to injury and death due to:

  • Rash decision making
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Overconfidence
  • Peer pressure
  • Lack of practice

While experts suggest that the reason for risky behaviours is developmental, the data tells us that teenagers are 15 to 33 times more likely to crash. This heightened risk of death is even greater in high-income countries. Males are also more likely to be involved in a fatal crash and young drivers remain overrepresented in crash data up until the age of 25.

There may not be an immediate solution to such an issue, but the data suggests that a multi-pronged approach to road safety including improved road infrastructure, child and community education as well as properly targeted law enforcement can save countless young lives.

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