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Back seat for Tufty

Back in 1994, there was a public outcry when the Department of Transport revealed it may be ditching Tufty the squirrel in its new road safety education guidelines for schools

Back in 1994, there was a public outcry when the Department of Transport revealed it may be ditching Tufty the squirrel in its new road safety education guidelines for schools

They follow a five-year project by the DoT's research unit, costing between Pounds 700,000 and Pounds 1 million and involving trials in 330 schools in Sheffield and Hertfordshire.

The DoT hopes to show teachers that road safety can provide a convenient platform for teaching across the curriculum as well as helping to reduce the number of children injured or killed.

In 1993, 637 people under 19 were killed and 77,324 injured on the roads. While Britain compares favourably on road safety, pedestrian casualties are high compared with other European countries. Children, of course, make up a large proportion of pedestrians.

Road safety has a low priority in schools preoccupied by the national curriculum, says the DoT. Many teachers see it as an issue for primary schools, although most accidents to pedestrians and cyclists occur in the 12 to 15 age band. The other problem is that the subject tends to be treated in a trivial way. Steve Kenny, the road safety officer for Sheffield who co-ordinated research in 230 schools said: "We found that it was often done through things like Tufty or gimmicks like clowns. Why? You don't teach swimming like that."

Gordon Harland, who directed the DoT research, said: "We wanted to show that transport is an important part of geography, for instance, and that danger is an aspect of transport, so road safety can be incorporated easily into teaching. We wanted to present this as a useful opportunity for teachers, rather than as a transport problem for education to solve."

The guidelines are divided into four areas; primary, secondary, in-service training, and road safety organisations. They cover the basic tenets of road safety awareness, from risk assessment to resisting pressure from their peers to do dangerous things, and offer ideas for projects.

They also suggest that children should take a more assertive and questioning role in road safety.

Mr Harland said: "One of the saddest aspects of talking to children involved in road accidents is that they tell you quite openly that it was their fault, they should have looked where they were going."

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