It's a shocking fact - poor children are most at risk on our roads

Kevin Lowe
Monday, February 3, 2014

Kevin Lowe, Head of Consultancy Services at the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) calls for a co-ordinated approach to combat the high rates of poor children getting injured or killed on our roads

A child walking in a deprived neighbourhood is up to five times more likely to get killed or injured on the road than a child in a well-off area. Shocking? I think so. But why is this and how can we change it?

First, getting more people to realise this must help. Whenever I mention this, people are appalled or don’t quite believe it. Professor Danny Dorling at Oxford University, an expert on inequalities, highlighted the issue as part of last year’s campaign for 20mph speed limits in residential areas:

‘Road traffic accident rates are substantially higher in rural areas than urban ones and they are the single largest cause of death for children and young people aged  5-25. Within urban areas where the majority of the population of Britain lives, children and young adults are more at risk within poorer localities than richer urban neighbourhoods.’

This is not new. It’s been the case for decades. Although deaths and serious injuries on the roads among children have reduced significantly since the late 1960s – to about 45 children (0-15) every week now – the gap between rich and poor has remained.

The Government recognises the problem and tackling it is one of the outcome indicators to monitor the success of its Strategic Framework for Road Safety (2011).

But is drawing attention to the issue simply about ‘blaming poor people’? I don’t see it that way:

  • Exposure to danger varies depending where you live. For example, children in families in the lowest quarter of income cross 50 per cent more roads than those of families in the highest quarter, though they also tend to stay in their local neighbourhood more. 
  • Walking is not a risk in itself and should bring health benefits. But it’s a problem if local roads have increased dangers. Narrow roads, high volume of traffic and fast speeds are key issues in poorer areas, and children tend to play outside more because their families have smaller homes and lack gardens. Even if there are parks nearby, parents often don’t trust them to be safe.
  • Family structure plays a part, with children in single parent and large families being more at risk. This can seem like blaming, but it’s a reality that single parent families tend to have less money and this limits options and can mean complex time-juggling – perhaps fitting in multiple jobs with looking after children. Where wider support is good the risks can be well-managed, but if it is not, children can be vulnerable if supervision is inconsistent or they take on responsibilities they are not quite ready for.
  • Cars in poorer neighbourhoods tend to be older and less safe – poor quality and recycled tyres sell in high volumes.

It’s a stubborn problem but that is no reason to accept it.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) stresses the need for systematic partnership working between road safety and health professionals to tackle the problem, in a way that also empowers local people to take more control of the  social factors that act as barriers to safer environments and behaviours. The Child Accident Prevention Trust endorses this approach.

With lead responsibility for Public Health now with local authorities, new possibilities are emerging. Also, the new national body responsible for health improvement, Public Health England (PHE) has signalled its commitment to providing leadership on this issue which is very encouraging.

CAPT is pushing for change. Our seminar in London on 11 March 2014 – Reducing the inequalities in child deaths and injuries on the roads brings together public health and road safety specialists, campaigners and academics to share latest thinking and examples of projects that are making a difference.

For information about the seminar see here


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