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You are the child health lead in a primary care trust. The manager of the local Children's Fund comes to ask your advice about how best to meet the Children's Fund sub-objective of reducing inequalities in child health for children aged 5–13. A local child safety organisation has applied to the Children's Fund for a grant to arrange traffic safety education sessions in the local community, teaching children how to cross roads more safely. The manager wonders whether this is the best way to reduce inequalities in child traffic injuries.
Meanwhile, the Children's Fund has done some preliminary work on one of its other objectives of involving the local community. In their consultations with workers, children and families, they have found that:
Children say it is unfair that they don't have enough safe places to play. They don't like cars speeding through their neighbourhood.
Parents feel under stress when the kids are in all the time but worry about sending them to the playground on the far side of a busy road.
The Children's Fund is charged with delivering preventive services, listening to what children and families say they need, and reducing inequalities in child health. Traffic education might well help to address this. But will it actually reduce child traffic injuries and increase the local community's sense of safety on the streets? Is there something else—perhaps targeting the traffic rather than the children—that might be more effective, and more responsive to the local community?
Structured clinical question
How effective are educational programmes [intervention] compared with traffic calming [intervention] in reducing child [patient] traffic injuries [outcome]?
Search strategy and outcome
Using Cochrane library—traffic calming OR traffic education: 1 relevant.
Using Medline: 3 relevant.
See table 1.
Traffic safety education is widely available to children in the UK in primary schools. All children will therefore have some exposure to traffic safety advice and any programme would be additional. Some programmes involve face to face education of study participants (direct education), while others use parents or teachers as educators (indirect education). The reviews do not address whether some programmes are more effective than others.
The Cochrane review of educational programmes found that the intervention improved the children's attitude to traffic safety. This was measured as change in the proportion of routes the participants classified as safe or “concept of speed”. The programmes' impact on the children's knowledge varied across studies. No trials assessed the effect of educational programmes on pedestrian injury, or adverse effects such as raising levels of anxiety or stopping children going out. The studies that assessed behavioural changes varied considerably in their design and outcome measures.
Traffic calming refers to interventions designed to control traffic, usually in urban residential areas. They aim to reduce the number of commuters using residential streets and the speed of the remaining traffic. Initiatives include improving main roads to carry additional traffic and restricting or removing traffic from residential streets by closing roads to motor vehicles or introducing one-way systems. Speed reducing initiatives include speed cushions, humped pelican crossings, raised junctions, narrowing the road(s), gateways at the entrances to the area, build-outs to protect on-street parking spaces, and mini-roundabouts.
The traffic calming meta-analysis found that area-wide urban traffic calming schemes reduced the number of injury accidents by an overall 15% (25% on residential streets and 10% on main roads). The review included non-controlled studies, and the overall effect of the controlled studies was 12% with the matched comparison group (95% CI: 1–21%) and 15% with the general comparison group (95% CI: 4–24%). With regard to educational programmes, the effect of the intervention varied considerably between studies, in particular between study designs. The review did not describe which types of traffic calming measures were most effective in reducing accidents.
A New Zealand study divided the annual costs associated with child pedestrian education nationally with that of implementing traffic calming in an average residential street, thus estimating the number of streets in which traffic calming could be introduced using the resources from the educational programmes. From the effect sizes found in a previously conducted controlled study the researchers estimated that 18 injury hospitalisations a year might be prevented with such a change. This calculation assumed no effect from traffic safety education on accident injuries.
Comparing initial implementation costs of traffic calming with annual costs of educational programmes does not take into account the ongoing benefits from traffic calming after the implementation year. The introduction of traffic calming schemes is likely to be more expensive than educational programmes in the first year. While the cost of educational programmes will be repeated annually for the length of the programme, costs of traffic calming will be limited to maintenance.
Compared with traffic safety education programmes, traffic calming seems to be the more effective option. However, it might be useful to compare traffic calming with and without additional educational programmes. Our search did not yield studies of this nature. The cost and effectiveness of traffic calming has not been addressed in comparison with other safety options such as school crossing attendants. However, their work tends to be limited to term-time before and after school.
Traffic calming, particularly traffic calming in areas of high disadvantage, has greater potential to reduce inequalities than educational programmes which tend to be taken up more enthusiastically by the better off.
CLINICAL BOTTOM LINE
Traffic calming measures appear more effective than educational programmes in reducing child traffic injuries.
Traffic calming has been shown to produce a 15% reduction in injury accidents (95% CI: 12–17%).
There is no evidence of the effect of educational programmes on child traffic injuries, although there is some evidence of behaviour change.
Traffic calming has greater potential to reduce inequalities in child health.