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Traffic environment of preschool children in Sweden. ( Safety of Pedestrians and Cyclists. Symposium Paris, May, 1979)


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Nr 44 - 1979 Statens vag- och trafikinstitut (VTI) - Fack - 58101 Linköping National Road & Traffic Research Institute - Fack - 58101 Linkoping - Sweden


The Traf c Envuronment of

-Preschool ChildreninSweden


Peter W Arnberg

This is a

reprlnt ( sartryck ) from a paperpresented tothe

__ Symposium of Safety of Pedestriansand Cyclists in Paris, -France, May14-16, 1979.

The data presentedinthe paperis taken from a larger _ Swedish report, "Trafikmiljo for barni forskola" (Arnberg, -P W; Derefeldt, G; & Sandels, S; National Swedish Road and Traffic Research Institute, 1979). The project was funded by the Department of Social Welfare.



Peter W Arnberg

National Swedish Road and Traffic Research Institute (VTI)



l) The data presented in this paper is taken from a larger Swedish report,"Trafikmiljö för barn i för skola" (Arnberg, P W; Derefeldt,G; & Sandels, S;

National Swedish Road and Traffic Research Institute, 1979). The project has been funded by the Department of Social Welfare.



Special attention groups with regard to traffic education

Accidents reported

Personnel s rating of traffic environment surrounding preschool and child s route

to/from preschool

Description of child s mode of transportation and route to school

Traffic environment surrounding the preschool Traffic education of children

Opinions of bus and taxi chauffeurs concerning safety of children


Traffic environment surrounding the preschool

Transportation to/from preschool

Educational considerations Illustrations References Page 10 12 13 17 18



The past decade in Sweden has witnessed a social revolution in which, more and more frequently, both parents work outside the home, leaving the care of the child to others, e.g., in day nurseries or family day care homes. This has resulted in the child's being exposed to traffic at a much earlier age than was previously the case as a result of transportation to

daycare facilities by car or bus or as a pedestrian or

cyclist. Information concerning how young children get to their preschools, as well as concerning the traffic

environment surrounding the preschool itself, is thus

necessary in order to: 1) study the traffic related

accident risks for young children; 2) develop programs

for accident prevention; and 3) develop programs for

the traffic education of children.

A survey of nearly 300 preschools in Sweden with

10 OOO children has recently been carried out. Responses to questionnaires sent out to preschool

personnel (response rate of 95%) and the children's

parents (response rate of 70%) have provided informa

tion concerning, among other areas, the traffic environ

ment surrounding the preschools and the children's mode of transportation and route to/from school. Time

of the year as well as the effect of where in Sweden the preschool was located were studied. Accidents and near accidents were also studied during the period

January, 1977, to May, 1978.

In 15% of the preschools, the traffic environment and in 25% of the preschools, the route to school were

considered dangerous. Factors characterizing a dangerous traffic environment included a lack of or poor quality

of existing fences, lack of warning signs, obstructed

vision, and too high a speed on roads surrounding the preschool. Safety hindrances for the large group of



children walking and bicycling to preschool included, e.g., the lack of proper pedestrian and bicycle paths.

In nearly all of the preschools (96%), at least some

traffic education was stated as being given, although

the form and extent of this education varied greatly.

Parents, however, felt that most of the children's education in traffic was provided at home. Nearly

half of the parents used material from "The Children's



During the past decade many changes have occurred in Sweden having repercussions for the preschool age child

(defined as children under six years of age). More and more frequently, both parents have begun to work and the child is cared for by others, e.g., at day

nurseries, family daycare homes, etc. Although one of

the parents (usually the mother) stays at home with

the child when it is very young, in order not to lose their jobs, most mothers must return to work within

two years' time. Another factor accentuating the changing

childcare patterns is the special preschool for all

six-year olds (as well as for younger children requiring

special preparation for school, e.g., immigrants)

initiated in l975 which nearly all children attend.

This social revolution has affected the relationship

between the young child and the traffic environment.

Results from earlier studies (e.g., Sandels 1972)

showed that children usually remained close to their homes and that they,cn q7with increasing age, were gradually exposed to and became used to more complex traffic environments. Now, young children must walk, bicycle, or be transported by car or bus daily away

from home, resulting in much earlier and more extensive exposure to traffic, especially as unprotected

pedestrians or cyclists.

The purpose of the present study is thus to: l) obtain information concerning traffic-related accident risks

for preschool children; 2) investigate means of reducing

these risks; and 3) investigate the existence of traffic

education programs for preschool children as well as to investigate the need for such programs.



Selection of sample

Thirty randomly selected counties throughout Sweden (10% of the tOtal number) were selected to participate

in a questionnaire study and, in each of these, 10

preschools were randomly selected. (Exceptions occurred in that in small counties with less than 10 preschools, all were included in the study, or in large counties

up to 20 preschools were included). As a result, nearly

300 preschools were chosen, representing approximately lO 000 children, 90% of whom were between five and six years of age.


Questionnaires were distributed to each preschool to be filled in by: l) personnel at the preschool, 2) 10

randomly selected parents of children at the preschool, and 3) bus or taxi drivers involved in transporting children to the preschool. The first data was collected in September , 1977, but personnel were also requested to fill in additional questionnaires during the following February and May so that any weather specific results could be studied. Topics covered by the questionnaire included the following: children's mode of transporta tion and route to/from preschool, occurence of traffic related accidents, traffic environment surrounding the

preschool, and traffic education of the children.

Control of data

Over 50 of the 296 preschools were visited to see whether the data from the questionnaires agreed with


personnel, parents and children. In the remaining

cases the data was checked against maps of the preschool environment provided by the personnel, as well as

against corresponding information from the parents.


Response rate

The questionnaire was returned by 282 of the 296 preschools (a total response rate of 95.3%) although because some preschools were not open the entire year, in some cases not all three forms of the questionnaire

were returned by staff. Reasons for not taking part

in the study included a lack of time by personnel (the questionnaire was rather comprehensive and required

nearly a half day to complete), that the school had

no traffic problems as it was located on an island, or, in one case, that the school had previously burned

down. The questionnaires to the parents were also

collected and returned by staff. Of the 248 preschools

returning the questionnaire in September, 1 731 of the 2 480 questionnaires allocated to parents were returned (nearly 70%). Reasons for not returning the questionnaire by parents were forgetfulness, refusal, or language difficulty in the case of immigrants.

Special attention groups with regard to traffic education

The number of children represented in the study was

nearly 10 OOO. Of these, approximately 7% were immigrants and slightly more than 2% had a physical handicap. These groups, requiring special attention with regard to


to 41% of the preschools had at least one immigrant child and lO% had at least one child with a visual


Accidents reported

During the period January, l977,tx>May, 1978, nineteen

accidents or near accidents occurred. In one case a child was killed while crossing a lively trafficked road and another wasseriouslyimdured even while

bicycling on a pedestrian/bicycle path. Other accidents

included being hit by a motor bike, falling off the bicycle while avoiding a car, and in two cases, merely

falling off the bicycle on the way to school.

A number of accidents also occurred while the child

was a passenger, e.g., buses or taxis driving into a

ditch or minor car accidents. One child fell out of

an unlocked door of the parent's car but, fortunately,

landed in a snowdrift and was not injured.

Only one near accident was reported in the preschool

area itself. In this case the child was sledding under

a broken fence and crossed the path of an oncoming car which just managed to brake in time.

Personnel's rating of traffic environment surrounding preschool and child's route to/from preschool

The personnel were asked to judge the general risk

experienced by children on their way to/from preschool as well as at preschool with regard to the traffic

environment. Although this was a subjective rating, it

was felt that it was the only way of obtaining a

general idea of the risks children were exposed to without necessitating the collection of an extensive


amount of data from each preschool. The results showed

that the child's route to school was considered dangerous

in about 25% of the preschoolsx) and that the traffic

environment surrounding the preschool was considered

dangerous in approximately 15% of the preschools.

Information from the questionnaires showed a high

agreement with maps of the traffic environment

surrounding the preschool provided by personnel.

Description of child's mode of transportation and route to school

The majority of the children were driven to school

although approximately 30 to 40? walked and approximately 5 to 10% cycled to school, except during the winter

(see Table 1). Most of the children walking or cycling to the preschool were accompanied by parents in the beginning of the year although this decreased by the

end of the year (see Table 2). The differences in how the children travelled to school were otherwise

surprisingly similar with regard to region in Sweden

as well as time of year (see Table 1).

The mean distances to school were 1.3 km for walking

and bicycling children and 2.6 km for car driven

children. The distances were longer for children driven to school in buses or taxis but the parents were unable to provide information concerning the exact distances

in these cases. The parents provided the information that 70% of the children walking to school had to cross

a road at least once and the mean number of crossings

was 1.4 per child. Parents of children bicycling to

X) One reason for this result was that in cases where

the child's route to school was considered unsafe,


Table 1 The mode of transportation to and from the pre

school at different times of the year and in different regions of Sweden. The table shows the

percent of children using different modes of transportation as provided by information from

personnel in the 282 preschools. Corresponding information from a selected number of parents

of preschool children has also been presented (N = 1 731).


from Information from personnel parents Time of year Region of Sweden

Sept. Sept. Feb. May ~ May

North Middle South

Walking 36 34 37 36 24.2 39.6 34.5 Private car 27 33 34 32 28.6 33.6 30.2 School bus 16 11 14 11 11.0 9.8 15.1 School taxi 14 13 11 11.3 26.0 8.8 7.6 Public transporta- 1 1 0 5 0 6 0.9 0 6 0 3 tion Bicycle 6 2 5 9 9 4 7.6 11 7 Other O 0 1 0.1 0 6 0 0

Table 2 Percent of walking or bicycling children who

wereru :escorted by parents or other adults

to the preschool during September and May. The

results are provided by the personnel from the 282 preschools participating in the study.

September May


Alone or with friends 39 62 Bicycling Alone or with friends

20 25


school provided the information that nearly 80% of

the children could not cycle on bicycle paths the entire way to school.

In general, parents were concerned about their

children's route to school as well as the children's lack of knowledge concerning behaviour in traffic


Traffic environment surrounding the preschool

Eighty percent of the preschools were located in urban

or suburban areas. Obstructed vision at entrance ways

in the form of hedges, houses, parked cars, curves

and hills occurred at nearly half (43%) of the pre


Ninety five percent of the preschools had an outdoor

yard area, but fencing arround these areas was less

common than expected. Only 45% had the entire area

fenced in and 19% had no fence at all. In many cases the fences were low enough for the children to easily climb over them.

The speed limit on roads surrounding the preschool was 50 km/h at 84% of the preschools. Approximately

9% had a speed limit of between 20-4O km/h and 7% had a speed limit of more than 50 km/h.

Traffic education of children

In nearly all of the preschools (96%) at least some

traffic education was reported as being given, although the form and extent of this education varied greatly. Only in 25% of the preschools, however, had the personnel


taken a course in the subject. Education was primarily

of an indoor type using visual material, e.g., flannel boards, although when out walking, the children were also given training if possible. Many of the staff expressed the need for a new, practical program in traffic education for children with emphasis on real traffic experience.

Parents, on the other hand, felt that most of the

child's education in traffic was provided at home. Nearly half (48%) used materials from "The Children's Traffic Club", a private organization active throughout Sweden designed to educate children in traffic safety primarily through the use of "indoor" materials such

as records with songs about road crossings, cutout

materials, and some training exercises in actual traffic situations. Otherwise parents gave education mostly in the form of verbal warnings, explanations, and

discussions of how the child was to behave in different


In general,it can be stated that there was some

confusion concerning who should havetjmamain responsi bility for the traffic education of children.

Opinions of bus and taxi chauffeurs concerning safety

of children

The bus and taxi chauffeurs were, in general, satisfied

with both the comfort and safety aspects of the

transportation for themselves as well as the children.

They did, however, feel that motorists in general

should be more careful when children exited from school

buses, especially in areas where no special unloading zone was provided. They also felt that areas provided

for waiting for a bus or taxi were sometimes unsafe.

Finally, the bus drivers stated that it was often difficult to control the children inside the bus.



Traffic environment surrounding the preschool

The results showed that rather many preschools,

especially new ones, are reasonably safe with regard to the traffic environment surrounding the preschool

and that few accidents occurred while the child was

at preschool. There were, however, many exceptions,

e.g., in older housing areas or preschools located

in buildings built some time ago for other purposes,

and much more could be done in these cases to make the

traffic environment safer, e.g., fencing in outdoor

areas leading out to heavily trafficked roads.

Many parents and personnel also commented on the fact that the roads bordering many preschools were often

dangerous because of too high speed and disturbed vision.

Speed limit signs, however, did not have the desired

effect although signs marked "valid during preschool

hours" appeared to be more effective. The most realistic

solution seems to be the use of road bumps which drivers

must slow down to pass. Work is currently being carried

out at the institute investigating how best to construct

the road bumps so that they give maximum speed reduction and safety as well as allow for snow removal during



\ \


\\ .:,

p recommended by VTI. The base is 4 meters and the maximum height is 10 cm. Road bumps with a smaller base can be passed without difficulty if the speed is high enough.

Transportation to/from preschool

The children's transportation to and from preschool seemed, in general, to be a more serious problem than the traffic environment surrounding the preschool. housing areas with the preschool located within the

development. The only dangers here seem to be too



when the distance is less than 2.3 km). When considering,

however, that the children are at an age when there are no suitable restraint systems in car transportation (in contrast with younger children who can use child seats and older children who can use adult belts), this

alternative cannot be considered entirely safe either,

as the accident reports showed. Work in developing

easily handled restraint systems for children in this age group is currently being carried out, and during 1979 a system will be recommended.

The highest risk group, however, are the children who are exposed to dangerous traffic situations while walking or bicycling to school. The lack of bicycle

and walking paths was surprising as well as the number

of dangerous crossings required by these young children.

It is thus not surprising that even in this limited

sample, one child was killed when trying to cross a heavily trafficked road. Immediate action in a number

of phases must be taken to give children safer crossings and walking paths, if they are to be allowed to walk

to school.

The present study seems to have activated parents, as

well as some of the personnel, in taking steps to influence authorities so that the children's traffic

environment can be made safer. Providing information

concerning the situation at a particular school as well

as suggesting ways in which the situation could be improved is thus one way to initiate change. Another possibility is simply to transport all children having a dangerous route to school, regardless of the distance

involved. Finally, preschools could be built so that

they can be moved to where children live when demo graphic patterns change.



Educational considerations

Information to parents and personnel concerning the

difficulties which young children face with regard to

traffic should be increased. Young children, e.g., cannot even handle a bicycle themselves without training when under age 7 and, thus, it would seem

impossible for them to be able to manage the bicycle and the traffic situation simultaneously (see Arnberg et al.l978). The many bicycle accidents in the present study supported this finding and the obvious conclusion

would be to forbid children to bicycle to preschool, at least if they do not have a good bicycle and a

protective helmet (see Arnberg 1974).

The main education related finding of the study, however,

concerns the training of the children. It appears that

parents, children, and personnel are all very interested in developing new programs and would be motivated to use them if they are reasonably simple and if some effects could be seen. It would thus be valuable if an international effort could be made in this direction in which different methods could be developed and

compared for the traffic education of young children.


Example of preschool children playing with bicycle close to a road. Nothing prevents them from cycling out on to the road.


13 %,g:\ ? % x ?å . åw

.%-A preschool class getting some training in traffic


A preschool where the children play close to a parking area and a heavy trafficked country road. The shopping area is on the other side of the road from the preschool.


Ä p O P U 8 5 O e U L l O O O n T L S I O n ll 8 An example of a q rA E U. a D.. 6 a it. The d

football has been kicked out on the road and the children chase

river's view 1s obstructed

Children playing football. The


E x a m p l e o f s a f e p r e s c h o o l t r a f f i c e n v i r o n m e n t F e n c e d i n r e c r e a t i o n a r e a P e d e s t r i a n w a y a n d b i c y c l e p a t h t o a h o u s i n g a r e a D e a d e n d G a t e L O t h r o u g h w a y ( T h e r o a d l e a d s t o a n a r e a o f s m a l l h o u s e s , a s c h o o l , a n d a d a y n u r s e r y )

P e d e s t r i a n P e d e s t r i a n w a y s u b w a y t o a f o r e s t a r e a w i t h a l a k e R o a d w a y 15


E x a m p l e of u n s a f e p r e s c h o o l t r a f f i c e n v i r o n m e n t E k s j ö M a i n R o a d 33 B u s s t o o


P r e s c h oo l s t o r e E n t r a n c e w a y P a r k i n g lo t E n t r a n c e w a y E n t r an c e w a y P l a yg r o u n d ll F en c e l6


A t t e n d e d e a c h d a y b y t h e p r e s c h o o l c h i l d r e n E x a m p l e of u n s a f e p r e s c h o o l S c h o o l t r a f f i c e n v i r o n m e n t D i n i n g h a l l 30 k m / h W a r n i n g s i g n o n l y f r o m t h i s d i





F e n c e , 5 0 c m i P r e s c h o o l ( Q x , 50 k m / r " \ /



f a x s





Arnberg, P W & Tydén T. Stability and manoeuverability performance of different types of bicycles. Report 45A. National Swedish Road and Traffic Research

Institute, Stockholm, 1974.

Arnberg, P W, Ohlsson, E, Westerberg, A and Öström, C A. The ability of preschool and schoolchildren to manoeuvre their bicycles. Report 149A. National Swedish Road and Traffic Research Institute, Lin köping, 1978.

Sandels, S. Children in Traffic. London: Elek Books Ltd., 1975. In Sweden, Stockholm: Läromedelsför laget, l976.



Table 2 Percent of walking or bicycling children who wereru :escorted by parents or other adults to the preschool during September and May


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