Alastair Dalton: Teaching children about road safety is still critical

It claims a staggering 1.25 million lives a year and is the world's biggest killer of older teenagers and adults under 30, writes Alastair Dalton.

A Road Safety Magic Show. Picture: Anne Johnston Photography
A Road Safety Magic Show. Picture: Anne Johnston Photography

But this scourge is not cancer or another disease, but road vehicles – which the World Health Organisation describes as “largely preventable”.

Scotland may have one of the best overall road safety records globally, but for child deaths it is in the lower half of the table of comparable countries.

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That puts us behind not just England and Wales, but states such as Estonia, Slovenia and Hungary.

Four children were killed on Scotland’s roads last year, the fewest for three years.

However, nearly 1,000 were also injured, 460 of whom were pedestrians. That’s the equivalent of every pupil in a large primary school being knocked down during a single year.

They were also most frequently hit in the hour after the end of school, between 3 and 4pm.

This year’s deaths have included a five-year-old boy killed in September after he was hit by a van in Shettleston in the east end of Glasgow, just 15 minutes after the end of school.

The previous month, a 12-year-old boy died after being struck by a lorry as he crossed the road near Dunoon in Argyll.

These grim statistics and examples underline the crucial importance of educating children about road safety.

It is not just because they are among the most vulnerable groups of pedestrians, but also to provide them with vital life lessons.

Road safety is included in classroom teaching associated with the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence.

There are some excellent and innovative books produced by organisations such as Road Safety Scotland, like the Ziggy series about an alien being taught how to stay safe by a family he is staying with. There are also websites and apps developed in Scotland and aimed at older pupils.

However, the topic is perhaps most vivid and engaging for youngsters when presented as a show.

That’s what Aberdeen-based Allansmagic has been doing for the past decade, with the company just clocking up its 500,000th pupil seeing a performance.

The presenters understand that the way to hold the attention of the youngest primary school children on this most serious of subjects is by using jokes and magic.

In this way, a high-visibility fluorescent jacket becomes a “magic” jacket which “glows” in the dark, and coloured balls substituted for traffic lights are magically mixed up then restored to their correct order.

In my view, one of the biggest dangers faced by children is failing to properly look before crossing the road because of distractions, and this too is tackled with a light touch.

Instead of using a child as an example, a glove puppet dog illustrates the point – playing the part of a pet so excited to hear the chimes of an ice cream van he rushes across the road without looking, and almost gets hit by a car.

The Road Safety Magic show has toured most of Scotland and has just been trialled at some schools in and around Glasgow – the most populous areas of the country yet to be covered.

The company says it is impossible to evaluate the impact the performances have on young audiences, but it is such a critical subject that the more road safety is highlighted, in whatever format, the better.