Children as old as 13 – and not just toddlers, preschoolers and those in the first few grades – have difficulty recognizing hazards when crossing the street, according to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers. They studied road crossing hazards, and in a virtual-reality lab have pinpointed many of the behaviors that lead to child pedestrians being hit by cars.“Look both ways before you cross the street” is necessary advice not only for younger children but also for those who have entered their teens, said Dr. Anat of BGU’s industrial engineering and management department who published her team’s findings in the online journal Safety Science. She conducted her study with Prof. Tal Oron-Gilad and Dr. Yisrael Parmet.Traffic accidents are one of the most common causes around the world of children’s injuries and fatalities.Here, vehicle traffic causes a fifth of all child deaths.The team conducted their study at BGU’s Virtual Environment Simulation Laboratory, one of the world’s most sophisticated traffic research facilities, which makes it possible to measure pedestrian reactions to virtual-reality scenarios.“While we already knew that children were less able than adults to recognize road crossing hazards, our goal was to pinpoint which behaviors might lead to accidents and develop training to correct them,” explains The study examined differences in the perception of hazards among child pedestrians and compared them to those of experienced adults.Overall, the experimental design included groups of seven- to nine-year-old children, nine- to 10-year olds, 10- to 13-year-olds and adults.The study simulated 18 prototypical streets in the country and used an eye-tracking device to study how 46 adults and children evaluated when it was safe to cross. Participants’ eye movements were recorded to identify areas or objects of interest and unique behaviors.“As predicted, we found that child pedestrians age seven to 10 had the most difficulty in identifying when it was safe to cross and recognizing hazards caused by parked vehicles or curvature in the road that restricts field of view,” Meir explained.Surprisingly, older children did not perform much better and lingered on the curb for an excessive amount of time; this meant that they were less able to distinguish between safe and hazardous situations than adults. In interviews, the children did not express an understanding of how crossing safety could affected by factors such as car speed and field of vision.“These results can serve as a tool to construct a hazard-perception training intervention for youngsters,” Meir added.“Moreover, the differences that emerged between the various children age groups reinforce that child pedestrians cannot be trained as a group, but rather the training needs to be adjusted to the level of experience the child has gained.”More effective training based on Meir’s research may already be working. She recently conducted another study on hazard detection training of seven- to nineyear- olds and then compared their performance to untrained children. The children who had undergone training faired significantly better, approaching the skills of an adult pedestrian.