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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 11:32 GMT
Road dangers in the holidays
By Shola Adenekan

Zara, road accident victim
Zara was hit by a car after running onto the road
The dark, wet and slippery winter months are here and so is the holiday season.

A study says these are the most dangerous times of the year for children on the roads.

It only takes a second for an accident to happen and a tiny lapse in a child's concentration can have catastrophic results.

Zara, 11, was on her way home from school last autumn when her shoe fell off. She ran back onto the road, oblivious to the traffic, and was hit by a van.

'Stop, look, listen'

Zara, seriously injured, was put in intensive care at Southampton General Hospital.

She suffered severe brain damage and could not sit, stand or speak.

Zara had to be fed by tube and have constant round-the-clock care.

After an intensive rehabilitation programme organised by the charity The Children's Trust, she is now looking forward to Christmas.

Liz Haigh, a director at The Children's Trust, says all parents should ensure their children are constantly made aware of the dangers on the road, especially during the winter months, with the changing weather conditions.

"Children should follow the basic road safety rules when crossing the roads," she said. "Stop, look and listen."

"Children should also be clearly seen, with reflective sashes or arm-bands on their clothing.

Busy road
Traffic dangers are worse in winter

"In particular, children who ride bikes should ensure that they have front and back lights on. Children should also wear reflective clothing and helmets."

The Children's Trust provides individual rehabilitation programmes for children with brain injuries.

It says 55% of children referred to its rehabilitation unit in the past year were the result of road traffic accidents.

Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA Motoring Trust, says many parents do not have the correct idea on where their children are at risk.

"With Christmas coming, many parents are more concerned about dangers on shopping trips," he said.

"But they have to keep their guards up all of the time. If parents are going shopping they have to worry about what the kids are up to while they are apart."


Children aged five to 10 are usually supervised by an adult and are less at risk than older age groups.

"Those aged 11 to 12 are two to five times more at risk than five year olds," Mr Howard said.

When they start secondary school, many children have reduced supervision on their journeys to and from school.

For some, it will be the first time they have travelled without an adult, either by public transport, cycling or walking to school.

This makes it a very dangerous time.


"Sometimes this causes children to lose concentration which results in them being unaware of hazards around them," Ms Haigh said.

"With the autumn nights drawing in and changing weather conditions, roads are often wet and slippery."

During their teenage years, pupils are street-wise, but having older friends may mean they are subjected to "show-off" drivers.

Newly qualified teenage drivers are experiencing a change in weather conditions and driving in the dark for the first time.

Their passengers tend to be a few years younger, so they are keen to impress, perhaps by driving too fast and not insisting that their passengers wear seatbelts

"Most at risk are 14 to 15-year-old girls being driven by 17 to 18-year-old male drivers who are motivated to show off and probably to drink and drive," Mr Howard said.

"A girl of 15 is three times more likely to die in car accident than a girl of 13."

So, what can be done to make children more aware of the dangers?

Ms Haigh says parents, families, schools and youth groups should ensure they are constantly made aware of the dangers on the road, particularly during the winter months.

"Schools should hold regular talks on road safety and parents should provide their children with the necessary safety equipment if cycling to school: helmets; lights on bikes; reflective clothing or reflective straps and armbands.

"The Children's Trust believes that everyone has a responsibility for making children aware of the dangers on the road.

"Drivers can all play their part by slowing down when driving through built-up areas and particularly near schools.

"The maintenance of street lighting is also important during the winter months, when visibility is poor."

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