Children up to twelve years of age have been allowed to ride their bikes on the sidewalk since the start of this year. This change in the law is intended to prevent accidents involving children and cars. Accident researcher Michael Pfäffli tells us about the benefits of the new legislation, the AXA Foundation for Prevention, and an app designed to teach children about road safety.
The roads have become safer for everyone who uses them over the past few years. There has been a particularly sharp fall in the number of serious accidents involving children, from 1,700 in 1980 to just 10% of that figure today. That said, children are still among the most at risk on our roads. The Federal Council's decision to change the law is a step in the right direction. Letting children ride on the sidewalk makes them feel safer than they would on the road. What isn't clear just yet is whether it will genuinely have a positive effect on road safety.
You have to bear in mind that about 10% of serious bike accidents are collisions with pedestrians, not cars, and this proportion could well increase with more children riding on the sidewalk. It's clear that a law on its own won't prevent children from having accidents. It remains vitally important to make children aware of the dangers they face on the road and teach them how to behave from a very young age.
The most important thing is to go out with your child and show him or her all the situations that can occur. Demonstrate the right way to behave, and let the child practice. Especially before children start to go out on their own, for example to get to kindergarten or school, they should do several trial runs with their parents and get to know where the dangers are.
There are playful ways to teach them good road manners too. The AXA Foundation for Prevention's mascot Max the Badger, for instance, has a friendly and age-appropriate approach to showing them what to do. Max offers teaching aids and road safety courses for schools that can be booked through the Foundation's website, and now he's gone digital with an app (for iOS and Android) that teaches children the right way to behave in potentially dangerous situations on a virtual journey to school. Some 40% of accidents involving children currently happen on the way to or from school.
Children have a different relationship with mobility than adults. They spend more time getting about on foot, by bike or on scooters, so they're exposed to different risks. On top of that, their cognitive abilities aren't yet fully developed, meaning that they pay less attention and can't always assess traffic situations correctly. One example of this is that children can't gauge how fast a car is traveling or whether it has enough time to stop. This is why most accidents involving children on bikes are caused by the child, which makes it all the more important to teach them about road safety. That's precisely where the AXA Foundation for Prevention comes in.
One of our priorities is child socialization in the context of road safety. Traveling to and from school is especially important because that's when a lot of accidents involving children happen. Children need to learn and practice the right way to behave in various situations in a way that's enjoyable for them. In Max the Badger, we've created a character that appeals to them to help them learn about road safety. They love it when Max visits their school!
We also support a range of research projects developing new approaches to making the roads safer. It's important for these projects to have substance and be practically oriented so that they can help to improve road safety in the foreseeable future.
Michael Pfäffli is an accident researcher at AXA and Chairman of the AXA Foundation for Prevention. His day-to-day work involves traffic hazards and above all how to minimize them. Michael is very passionate about making our roads safer for everyone who uses them.