With winter arriving, it's important to remember the faster you are driving, the lower the chance of survival in a pedestrian accident. One in three fatal crashes in New Zealand involve somebody driving too fast and over half of the speed-related transport accidents last year involved children and teenagers.

Speeding around schools and in built-up residential areas is particularly dangerous as children are unable to effectively judge vehicle speeds, according to new research.

A University of Iowa study shows that children lack the perceptual judgment and motor skills needed to cross a busy road without putting themselves in danger.

In the study, the researchers placed children aged 6 to 14 in a realistic simulated environment and asked them to cross one lane of a busy road multiple times.


They found that children had difficulty consistently crossing the street safely with the six-year-olds experiencing accidents 8 per cent of the time. By the age of 12 the children had compensated for their inferior road-crossing motor skills by choosing bigger gaps in traffic to cross more safely but were still struck 2 per cent of the time. It wasn't until they were 14 that they were able to navigate street crossing in the simulator without incident.

By analysing the data, the researchers found that children contend with two main variables when deciding if it's safe to cross the road.

The first involves their perceptual ability, which is how well they can judge the gaps between passing cars by taking into account the oncoming car's speed and distance. The study found that younger children had more difficulty making consistently accurate perceptual decisions.

The second variable was the child's motor skills which measured how quickly they timed their first step from the pavement on to the road after a car had passed them. Younger children were unable to time their step as precisely as adults which gave them less time to cross the street before the next car arrived.

Next week is road safety week, an annual event coordinated by the charity Brake, which works to help stop road deaths and injuries. Brake is calling on drivers to slow down in residential areas.

People often think that they would be able to stop if a child ran out in front of their car, but braking is only half of the battle. Driving a modern car at 50km/h in dry weather results in another 14 metres of travel after the brakes have been deployed before the car comes to a full stop.

When your eyes see a child in the road it takes time for your brain to process the information before it sends signals to your foot touch the brake. Studies show that this thinking time is around 1.5 seconds meaning at 50km/h you would have already travelled 20 metres before your leg even started to move.

That's a total of 34 metres or eight car lengths travelled from seeing the child to stopping the car, a distance that is doubled if the road is wet.

The laws of physics and human anatomy combined result in a person being 74 per cent more likely to be killed if they are struck at 50km/h than 40km/h. This is because faster speeds result in people being more likely to be scooped up either hitting the windshield or being thrown to the ground.

The science concludes that our children can't effectively judge traffic, but by slowing down in residential areas we can all help can reduce the chance of becoming another fatality statistic.