Practical training at the roadside in pedestrian skills is known to be highly effective at improving the performance of children as young as 5 years old. However, such roadside training can be time consuming, labour intensive, and subject to disruption from poor weather and/or lack of suitable traffic situations. Training based on simulations offers a way around these difficulties and earlier experimental work suggests that it has the potential to yield learning of comparable levels to roadside training.
This project aimed to realise this potential by developing computer-based training materials covering a range of pedestrian skills within a single programme. This was seen as a supplement to any roadside training (rather than a substitute). The effectiveness of the programme was evaluated at the roadside on children aged 5-11 years old.
The present project had two major objectives:
- to realise the potential of computer simulations in road safety education by producing computer-based training materials aimed at promoting a clearly-defined range of traffic skills within a single, coherent programme; and
- to evaluate the effectiveness of this programme in improving the roadside behaviour and understanding of children in the age range 5 to 11 years.
The programme focused on four broad and related areas of pedestrian skills:
• safe place finding;
• roadside search;
• gap timing; and
• perceptions of others' intentions.
Each skill was addressed by a distinct module of simulation materials, which shared the same small town setting and a common cast of characters to emphasise the relationship between the skills. Each module comprised four training sessions of around 30 minutes each, intended for use by an adult trainer working with a group of three children. The method of training consisted of adult guidance and peer collaboration, the latter increasing over time with the age of the children. An important aspect of the training is that children are actively encouraged to make decisions rather than given specific rules. The programme emphasised the dangers of young children actually attempting to cross real roads. This was undertaken by trainers throughout the sessions, at the end of each session and in documentation sent to parents. Evaluation was undertaken in two areas of Glasgow. One had a relatively high accident rate and low socio-economic status (SES) whilst the other had a lower rate and was socially mixed. Over two school years about 75 children from each area worked through the four modules. Control children from each area were used for comparative purposes to take account of age effects and the possible priming effects of testing children at the roadside. All children were pre-tested, and post-tested twice; once after the training and once after the next skill was taught.
The results of the evaluation were almost uniformly positive.
With regard to the 'safe place finding' skill, training doubled the number of safe judgements made by 8- and 10-year-olds and substantially improved their ability to offer insightful justifications for these judgements. There were signs of the cumulative benefits arising from subsequent training in roadside search. Untrained children showed no gain whatsoever. It was noted that training had only a limited impact on 6-year-olds who showed no improvements in judgements and only small improvements in understanding. There was, however, good evidence that safe places training benefited the roadside search performance of the 6-year-olds. They, in common with the two older age groups, did better at pre-test than the controls on both the pick-up of information concerning vehicle movements, and an explanation of its significance.
Training in 'roadside search' skill led to further improvements on both aspects of performance in all three groups, while control children showed little or no progress.
The outcomes for training in 'gap timing' skill presented a similar picture. At pre-test, trained children made more cautious and more skilful judgements than control children, indicating a knock-on effect from previous input. Training led to further improvements which were largely absent from the control group, although in this case there was no continued increase between the first post-test and the delayed post-test.
Previous training had no apparent impact on 'perceptions of intentions', the final skill trained, and both trained and control children started at the same level. Again, training produced clear benefits.
The computer-based training led to substantial improvements in both roadside behaviour and children's understanding in all four skills dealt with, and in all three age groups, with the sole exception of the 6-year-olds on safe places. Even here the safe places training had a positive impact on roadside search performance. The broad pattern of improvements indicates that none of the skills was too difficult for younger children or too easy for older children. There are also cumulative benefits for children working through the whole package in the order employed here. There were other non road safety benefits emerging from this work. Of particular note is the finding that training improved the verbal skills of older children from the higher accident, lower SES, area. There are two important caveats. First the results do not amount to evidence that computer-based training could act as a complete substitute for roadside training. There are signs that for younger children in particular, a combination of the two would be preferable. Secondly, the success of the computer-based training is not separable from the adult-group interaction that took place, that is how effective it would be if used by individuals has not been tested.