The Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 151–162 | Cite as

Training Children in Pedestrian Safety: Distinguishing Gains in Knowledge from Gains in Safe Behavior

  • David C. Schwebel
  • Leslie A. McClure
Original Paper


Pedestrian injuries contribute greatly to child morbidity and mortality. Recent evidence suggests that training within virtual pedestrian environments may improve children’s street crossing skills, but may not convey knowledge about safety in street environments. We hypothesized that (a) children will gain pedestrian safety knowledge via videos/software/internet websites, but not when trained by virtual pedestrian environment or other strategies; (b) pedestrian safety knowledge will be associated with safe pedestrian behavior both before and after training; and (c) increases in knowledge will be associated with increases in safe behavior among children trained individually at streetside locations, but not those trained by means of other strategies. We analyzed data from a randomized controlled trial evaluating pedestrian safety training. We randomly assigned 240 children ages 7–8 to one of four training conditions: videos/software/internet, virtual reality (VR), individualized streetside instruction, or a no-contact control. Both virtual and field simulations of street crossing at 2-lane bi-directional mid-block locations assessed pedestrian behavior at baseline, post-training, and 6-month follow-up. Pedestrian knowledge was assessed orally on all three occasions. Children trained by videos/software/internet, and those trained individually, showed increased knowledge following training relative to children in the other groups (ps < 0.01). Correlations between pedestrian safety knowledge and pedestrian behavior were mostly non-significant. Correlations between change in knowledge and change in behavior from pre- to post-intervention also were non-significant, both for the full sample and within conditions. Children trained using videos/software/internet gained knowledge but did not change their behavior. Children trained individually gained in both knowledge and safer behavior. Children trained virtually gained in safer behavior but not knowledge. If VR is used for training, tools like videos/internet might effectively supplement training. We discovered few associations between knowledge and behavior, and none between changes in knowledge and behavior. Pedestrian safety knowledge and safe pedestrian behavior may be orthogonal constructs that should be considered independently for research and training purposes.


Injury Walking Children Virtual reality 



Thanks to Elizabeth O’Neal, Anna Johnston, Ksenia Shingareva, and the students of the UAB Youth Safety Lab for their extensive help with data collection, entry, and coding; Jodie Plumert and Kathy Christoffel for consulting advice; Aeron Gault for IT support; and the Digital Artefacts team for VR development and support. The research was supported by Award Number R01HD058573 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.


  1. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. (1994). Otto the auto on school bus safety [short film]. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.Google Scholar
  2. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. (2006). Otto the Auto Series [short film]. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.Google Scholar
  3. Bart, O., Katz, N., Weiss, P. L., & Josman, N. (2008). Street crossing by typically developed children in real and virtual environments. OTJR: Occupation Participation Health, 28, 89–96.Google Scholar
  4. Barton, B. K. (2006). Integrating selective attention into developmental pedestrian safety research. Canadian Psychology, 47, 203–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barton, B. K., Schwebel, D. C., & Morrongiello, B. A. (2007). Brief report: Increasing children’s safe pedestrian behaviors through simple skills training. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 32, 475–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. California State Automobile Association. (2014). Safer Journey [website]. Available from
  7. Demetre, J. D., Lee, D. N., Grieve, R., Pitcairn, T. K., Ampofo-Boateng, K., & Thomson, J. A. (1993). Young children’s learning on road-crossing simulations. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 63, 348–358.Google Scholar
  8. Demetre, J. D., Lee, D. N., Pitcairn, T. K., Grieve, R., Thomson, J. A., & Ampofo-Boateng, K. (1992). Errors in young children’s decisions about traffic gaps: Experiments with roadside simulations. British Journal of Psychology, 83, 189–202.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Duperrex, O., Bunn, F., & Roberts, I. (2002). Safety education of pedestrians for injury prevention: A systematic review of randomised controlled trials. British Medical Journal, 324, 1129–1131.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. FHWA (2014). Safer Journey [website]. Available from
  11. Glang, A., Noell, J., Ary, D., & Swartz, L. (2005). Using interactive multimedia to teach pedestrian safety: An exploratory study. American Journal of Health Behavior, 29, 435–442.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Honda Motor Company. (2005). Step to Safety with Asimo [short film]. Torrance, CA: Honda Motor Company.Google Scholar
  13. McComas, J., MacKay, M., & Pivik, J. (2002). Effectiveness of virtual reality for teaching pedestrian safety. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 5, 185–190.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2013). WISQARS™ (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System). Retrieved 18 April 2013, from
  15. NHTSA. (2014). Stop and Look with Willie the Whistle. Available from
  16. ORCAS. (2014). Walk smart [computer software]. Eugene OR: ORCAS.Google Scholar
  17. Plumert, J. M., Kearney, J. K., & Cremer, J. F. (2004). Children’s perception of gap affordances: Bicycling across traffic-filled intersections in an immersive virtual environment. Child Development, 75, 1243–1253.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Preusser, D. F., & Lund, A. K. (1988). And keep on looking: A film to reduce pedestrian crashes among 9–12 year olds. Journal of Safety Research, 19, 177–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rothengatter, T. (1984). A behavioural approach to improving traffic behaviour of young children. Ergonomics, 27, 147–160.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Schwebel, D. C., Davis, A. L., & O’Neal, E. E. (2012). Child pedestrian injury: A review of behavioral risks and preventive strategies. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 6, 292–302. doi: 10.1177/0885066611404876.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Schwebel, D. C., Gaines, J., & Severson, J. (2008). Validation of virtual reality as a tool to understand and prevent child pedestrian injury. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 40, 1394–1400.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Schwebel, D. C., & McClure, L. A. (2010). Using virtual reality to train children in safe street-crossing skills. Injury Prevention, 16, e117–e125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schwebel, D. C., McClure, L. A., & Severson, J. (in press). Teaching children to cross streets safely: A randomized controlled trial. Health Psychology. doi: 10.1037/hea0000032.
  24. Thomson, J. A., Tolmie, A. K., Foot, H. C., Whelan, K. M., Sarvary, P., & Morrison, S. (2005). Influence of virtual reality training on the roadside crossing judgments of child pedestrians. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 11, 175–186.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Tolmie, A. K., Thomson, J. A., Foot, H. D., Whelan, K. M., McLaren, B., & Morrison, S. (2005). The effects of adult guidance and peer discussion on the development of children’s representations: Evidence from the training of pedestrian skills. British Journal of Psychology, 96, 181–204.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Toroyan, T., & Peden, M. (Eds.). (2007). Youth and road safety. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  27. van Schagen, I. N. L. G. (1988). Training children to make safe crossing decisions. In T. Rothengatter & R. de Bruin (Eds.), Road user behaviour: Theory and research (pp. 482–489). Assen/Maastricht, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum.Google Scholar
  28. Walt Disney Pictures. (1956). I’m no fool as a pedestrian [short film]. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Productions.Google Scholar
  29. Young, D. S., & Lee, D. N. (1987). Training children in road crossing skills using a roadside simulation. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 19, 327–341.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Zeedyk, M. S., & Wallace, L. (2003). Tackling children’s road safety through edutainment: An evaluation of effectiveness. Health Education Research: Theory and Practice, 18, 493–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiostatisticsUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA

Personalised recommendations