Whenever driving, and especially in an area where there are likely children at play, please always travel at a safe speed, be prepared to stop and be aware that sometimes children are just not paying attention. We all know how easily distracted our children can be and, it also best for us to keep in mind that they have yet to develop the perceptual skills, which become mostly second nature to older children and adults.
As recently as March 2011, a study conducted by the University of London and published on-line by The Journal of Psychological Science demonstrated that perceptual skills take a little longer to develop in children. As we get older, and by the time we reach adulthood, we take our skills of perception for granted. For so much of our lives we have mastered the ability to avoid looming objects by moving faster and we are more in tune to traffic sounds such as engines and car noises. For this study, headed by Professor John Wann, a simulated laboratory was used by his team to compare the ability of both adults and various aged children to cross regular street traffic. The results showed that while older children were better able to detect approaching vehicles, they were no match at all for the depth perception of the adults and the younger kids clearly showed that there neural mechanisms were very much underdeveloped.
Even more recently, the University of Idaho conducted lab experiments with groups of children aged 6 to 9 and adults between the ages of 19 and 50. All of the participants were given headphones to listen to traffic approaching at speeds of 5 to 25 miles per hour, and in both directions. The test environment was set up so that the participants could use a computer to identify when they thought a car had arrived, and the computers used was pre-programmed to determine the distances of the approaching vehicles. The adults were able to detect cars that were approximately 48 feet away from them, the older children were able to understand a car was approaching them at approximately 41 feet and the younger ones only became acutely aware that a vehicle was approaching at just 35 feet. As this experiment was done in a simulated environment, there were no real world traffic or other outside noises/street sounds taken into account and therefore the results are likely to be very different, for all of the participants, in environments were other noises are factored in as part of the distraction.
Driving slow is so very important when traveling where children are at play. Most drivers don’t realize that 20 miles per hour, or less when posted, is the suggested speed limit when driving near a school zone or when traveling through some residential areas as well. Not only does it take more time for a driver who is going fast to react and slow down, it seems we now need to be concerned that it takes some of the young, and no doubt the older folks, just a little more time to get out of the road.