getting to school safely

The commute to school is a major challenge for many young students. Together with the Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club (ÖAMTC), we used eye tracking recordings at the start of the new school year to analyze how children’s eyes see road traffic. Which dangerous situations can parents and their children be trained to handle?

“Children between the ages of five and six in particular almost never check by looking from side to side. Children between the ages of eight and nine manage this better, but not yet safely,” says ÖAMTC traffic psychologist Marion Seidenberger, highlighting a key finding. “These ‘safety looks’ to the left and right before and when crossing roads take in several potential sources of danger and enable the child to react to them. This has to be learned and practiced.”

To better understand how children perceive road traffic when crossing a road at a pedestrian cross-ing, we analyzed children’s gaze behavior using VPS 19 eye tracking glasses.

The children crossed a four-branch intersection with pedestrian crossing in Schwechat – both un-regulated and regulated by a traffic light. The subjects completed the task alone, in pairs, on foot, and on a scooter.

These were the results of
the eye tracking study for ÖAMTC:

  • Regardless of the exact age, the eye tracking analyses showed that young subjects are overtaxed if they have to pay attention to several things at once. They increasingly devote their attention to only one object at a time and do not look around much.
  • First graders have a hard time gauging how fast the approaching car is going, what the distance is, and whether it will stop before the crossing. The ÖAMTC expert therefore advises practicing a lot with children, being a good role model for them and accompanying them to school if necessary.
  • “If two children cross the road together, one takes the lead and the other stops looking,” says the ÖAMTC expert, citing another result of the eye tracking study. Parents should explain to their children that they must always look for themselves.
  • If children use a scooter, they have to pay a lot of attention to controlling the device. However this is almost completely lacking when it comes to grasping the traffic situation. “Children should therefore generally push their scooter when crossing the road so they still have resources for “safety looks’,” advises Marion Seidenberger.

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