Primary schools should scrap classroom talks in favour of simulation exercises that more accurately reflect real-life situations. Drama workshops and short plays written by older children could also help to get the safety message across to 12 to 15-year-olds, according to Daphne Evans, of the University of Wales Swansea.
She has appealed for a new approach to road safety education after conducting a four-year research project involving 3,000 secondary school children.
Her research established that teenagers' road safety knowledge was very good - what was lacking was the ability to apply this understanding on the streets.
"There are likely to be a number of reasons for this," Evans says. "They learn much of the information in a classroom environment and therefore see it as just another school subject."
But she argues that parents must shoulder much of the blame for the relatively high number of child pedestrian accidents.
They may tell their children to stop, look and listen before crossing a road, but often they do not practise what they preach.
"Children observe that what their parents do is dash across the road when they see a gap in the traffic," she points out. "While adults may have the perceptual skills to gauge speed and distance, children do not, therefore the dashing across the road can prove to be a fatal lesson."
Evans says that the increasing tendency for children to be taken to school by car has added to the problem by depriving them of opportunities to practise road safety skills. "When these children are allowed out alone or with friends, they just haven't had the chance to learn how to function in a traffic environment. The result is more injuries, particularly in the 12 to 15-year-old age group."
According to her, drama workshops encourage young people to think about traffic dangers in a way that normal lessons do not.
"When they stop to consider road safety they are amazed at the stupid things they do, such as jostling one another on the pavement of a busy road," Evans says. "Such work has more than justa fleeting effect. Our follow-up surveys suggest that it changes attitudes."
Daphne Evans's research was conducted in collaboration with Swansea Council, Trinity College, Carmarthen, and Pontarddulais comprehensive school. She can be contacted at the University of Wales Swansea on 01792 523347.
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