Introduction to teaching road safety and lesson ideas
Road safety is a great subject in which to engage children and young people – and Road Safety Week is the perfect time to do it! If approached in the right way, students often enjoy and get a lot from studying and campaigning for road safety because it is an issue they can understand and that affects them. It’s vitally important to help shape children and young people’s understanding of and attitudes towards road safety, to help give them the best chance of keeping safe while they’re young and as they get older. Road crashes are the biggest killer of young people worldwide.
Teaching road safety may be part of your country’s teaching requirements. If it isn’t, it should always be possible to incorporate road safety messages into lessons on other subjects, or assemblies, lunchtime activities, or general ‘citizenship’ or ‘wellbeing’ lessons if you have them.
Below are some guidelines on what to teach different age groups from age 2 to 18, and some ideas for lessons and activities, including some that can be incorporated into teaching on subjects like Maths, Science, Drama and English. You can also find out if your national or local authority provides help and guidance on road safety teaching, which may show you how to teach road safety within your country’s teaching requirements. You could also visit Brake’s UK road safety teaching guide for more ideas, which may need adapting for your requirements.
Before you get started
Before teaching road safety, check if any children have been bereaved by, hurt in, or witnessed a serious road crash, and be sensitive to their needs. Talk to them and their carers about whether they wish to be excluded from lessons or activities that discuss death or injury. (If your school or any students experience a bereavement in a road crash, you can see Brake's reports on child bereavement and order our child bereavement support literature to help you support them.)
Getting everyone on board
You may need to persuade others within your school or college, particularly the head or board, about the importance of road safety before you start teaching and promoting it, and in order to organise or take part in a Road Safety Week. Here are a few key points you can make to help persuade others:
- Every death or serious injury of a child on roads is devastating for the family, the wider community, and the child’s pre-school, school or college – and every one is preventable. No child should lose their life or suffer a horrendous injury on roads.
- Poor road safety not only means children are in danger of being hurt or killed, it also often affects their health and wellbeing. In many countries, children (especially from wealthier families) are increasingly being driven to school, and are less likely to regularly walk and cycle, contributing to inactivity, obesity and affecting social development. If streets are unsafe, parents are often less willing to let their children walk or cycle.
- Educators can play a vital role in protecting children and stopping devastating casualties by teaching life-saving messages to students, and promoting road safety more widely such as to parents and drivers in the local area.
- Schools and colleges can lead the way in making local roads safer, especially enabling children and families to walk and cycle safely. You are at the heart of a community and therefore well placed to work with authorities to help achieve improvements to local roads to make them safer for children and adults, such as through paths, crossings, lower speed limits and better law enforcement.
- Road safety can help you meet teaching requirements and demonstrate to people in the area that you are a school that cares about students’ safety and wellbeing.
- Road safety is not just a subject for younger children. The older children get, the more at risk they become, as they gain independence. In many countries, crashes involving young drivers are a big problem, causing a large proportion of road casualties, so improving awareness of the risks of driving and being a passenger is crucial for teenagers too.
Getting outside help
Bear in mind that classroom teaching is more effective if combined with practical experiences and campaigning. So if you can build in these three components it will have greater impact:
- classroom teaching
- roadside experiences and training (which must be delivered safely)
- getting the children campaigning for road safety.
To successfully deliver on these different components, especially practical training, you may need or benefit from the help of local agencies. For example, in some places local authorities can visit schools to run practical pedestrian and cycling training for children. You may also be able to work with emergency services to help you teach road safety in an exciting way, and convey why road safety is important, or they may be able to help supervise and deliver practical experience-based lessons.
You might also be able to get help from a local company who could provide funding to aid your road safety work, or volunteers to help supervise, or help you promote a campaign led by the children (for example by providing space to display banners and posters).
Road Safety Week is a great time to team up with others to maximise impact, so whatever you’re planning, consider engaging partners or contributors early on.
What to teach
Brake recommends you aim to cover the road safety ABC, adapted for the age group you’re working with, as set out below:
A is for awareness (traffic is dangerous and can hurt people)
B is for behaviour (things you should do to stay safer)
C is for choice and campaigning (how to make safer choices and to help others make these choices too)
Under 8’s can be taught A and B from the age of two upwards. They can be taught rules and encouraged to follow them through practical training. However, under 8’s should not use roads without an adult, and adults should follow the Crossing Code (see below) at all times when on foot with their children. Adults should, at all times, hold children’s hands or use reins with younger children because under 8’s:
- have difficulty judging speed and distance;
- are easily distracted and act on impulse;
- have difficulty understanding danger and death and are oriented around play;
- are small (so can’t see hazards) and are still developing eyesight and hearing;
- are carefree, not careless;
- should not be allowed to walk near roads on their own for these reasons.
Over 8’s will have more ability to understand C, and make their own choices based on different options and assessment of risk. However, they need to have A and B re-emphasised to them because over 8’s:
-may walk on their own but make mistakes that can cost their lives because of lack of experience;
-are vulnerable to peer pressure from other children to make risky choices, such as running across a road.
The following sections list teaching topics within the road safety ABC.
A is for awareness: traffic is dangerous and hurts people
You can teach, with increasing frankness as children get older, that:
- Traffic hurts millions of people every year across the world, and someone dies every 30 seconds globally in road crashes.
- People hurt by traffic are often killed and seriously injured. Injuries include paralysis and losing limbs. (Note: many children may think minor injuries such as breaking an arm are okay – you may need to make clear how awful a serious injury is.)
- Some people do dangerous things when walking or cycling, such as texting on their phone while crossing a road, or not wearing a cycle helmet. These people are more likely to be killed or hurt.
- Some drivers do dangerous things, which increase the chance of them killing or hurting themselves or someone else, for example, speeding, or using a phone at the wheel, or driving after drinking alcohol. We have laws such as speed limits to stop people being killed or hurt in crashes, but some drivers break them.
B is for behaviour: rules you can follow to stay safe
Children need to be taught the language of road safety before they can understand the rules. For example, names of vehicles, names of street furniture such as pavements and kerbs, and an understanding of fast, slow, looking, listening and crossing. A well-educated child age five may already have a grasp of fundamental road safety rules thanks to their parents. But others may not. Therefore, you should begin with younger children by checking they all understand the following:
- Paths/pavements are for people; roads are for traffic.
- Never go out near roads without a grown up. Hold their hand and don’t let go.
- Stop at once if you are told. Never try to cross a road until you are told.
- Don’t run into the road or play on roads - play in a park, field or garden.
- You can help grown ups look and listen for traffic to cross safely.
- Traffic lights (robots) and other crossings help people cross the road. When a red man appears, it means you must stop.
- You can wear bright clothes to be seen by traffic.
- If you ride in a car, never undo your belt and don’t play with door handles or try to get out or distract the driver.
By the age of five, children are ready to learn, in addition to the above:
- The Crossing Code (find a safe place to cross, stop, look, listen, cross with care, looking and listening all the time)
- The safest places to cross: underpasses; footbridges; where there is a crossing-patrol person; traffic light (robot) crossings; zebra crossings.
- The importance of wearing the right gear when walking and cycling. Fluorescent and reflective materials help drivers see you, and helmets protect your head.
- In a car, only get out on the pavement side.
- In a bus or coach or minibus, wear your seat belt if one is fitted. When getting off, never cross the road in front or behind the bus. Wait until it has pulled away so you can see in all directions.
By the age of 9 and upwards, depending on development, children are ready to explore:
- Bereavement issues and the social impact of road crashes.
- The responsibilities of drivers to protect other people, especially people who are on foot or bicycle.
- The dangers of giving in to peer pressure to take risks.
Read more about teaching older students further down.
C is for choice: how to make the safest choices and help others stay safe too
Under-8’s are ill-equipped to make their own choices. However, it is important that older children recognise their ability to make safe choices, recognise pressures they may come under to make dangerous choices and learn how to resist those pressures, and how to speak up for the safety of others too.
Younger children can also be encouraged to think about choices, as long as they are not encouraged to make those choices on their own. All children can be encouraged to speak out against dangerous behaviour, such as children pushing each other into the road, or running across roads without looking, or drivers driving too fast, or people not doing up their seatbelts or not wearing helmets on mopeds or motorbikes.
Teaching road safety to children and young people aged 11-20
Students aged 11-20 may initially think that road safety is for younger children, or boring. But most young people have a lot to say about road safety and won’t find it boring as long as it’s taught well. In fact, effective road safety teaching with these age ranges enables you to explore challenging and worth-while issues, including:
- Death and bereavement
- Life-changing injuries (such as paralysis and brain injury) and how this affects people and their families
- Taking responsibility for others in the context of good citizenship - particularly if driving
- Society’s obsession with motor vehicles, the negative effects this has on communities (safety, health, pollution, social interaction, costs), and the alternatives to driving
- The differences in levels of risk-taking among males and females
- Alcohol and drugs – including alcohol and drug use among young people, and how this links with the issue of drink and drug driving
There are a number of reasons that students may not initially be receptive to road safety teaching. For example, they may:
- Think they ‘know it all’ and road safety is for ‘babies’
- Already be taking risks on roads (for example, mucking about on busy roads, driving without a licence or taking illegal drugs and driving)
- Feel invincible - road crashes happen to someone else, not them. They think their youth and fast reaction times will keep them out of trouble
- Have a misunderstanding of the true extent of deaths and injuries on roads and just how at risk they are as young people.
However, young people are likely to have witnessed risky behaviour on roads and grasp road safety issues easily as they deal with roads every day. They also may well have experienced, or heard of, someone in their community being hurt or killed in a road crash, and therefore understand that death and serious injury is a reality on roads.
Effective road safety teaching for this age range should:
- Build on students’ existing knowledge, not preach
- Require students to think for themselves and conduct original research
- Be discussive and creative, and related to students’ real lives
- Involve real-life projects (such as devising and running a campaign to get parents and students to ‘belt up’) not just class-room learning
- Explore the dangers of risk-taking
- Explain clearly that road safety is about stopping deaths and serious injuries and therefore it is crucial to take it seriously – particularly as these students are in the highest risk group for dying or being injured on roads.
Age 2-5 teaching ideas
Teach that traffic is dangerous:
1. Toy car Olympics
You: Arrange the children in a line across one end of a room or in the playground. Give each child a toy car.
The children: In turn, send their car across the room. Which is fastest? Which goes furthest before it can stop? Which car is near? Which is far away?
2. Learn about wheels
Make play dough wheels, and roll them around. Pick up a toy car and spin its wheels. Wheels mean that traffic goes fast and can’t stop easily. It goes much faster than people who are walking. Traffic is dangerous.
3. Let’s look at a car!
Only do this activity if you can park a car somewhere away from traffic where the children can approach it safely. The car should be parked on a flat surface with the handbrake firmly on and engine off.
You: Tell the children the importance of standing well away from cars, even when they look like they aren’t moving. Take each child up to the side of the car in turn, holding their hand.
The children: Poke the car then poke their tummy. Which is soft, which is hard? Cars are hard and can hurt you if they hit you. You are soft and easily hurt. Look at a wheel. Look at how big and hard it is. It goes round very fast.
Teach them cars and other vehicles aren’t toys. They’re dangerous. Teach them to stay away from traffic unless holding an adult’s hand.
Teach to always hold hands:
1. Create a giant road map
You: Make a giant map of roads, paths and pavements out of coloured paper stuck together. You could include features that you have in your local area, like crossings or a park.
The children: Help you cut out pictures of vehicles, people, dogs and buggies out of old magazines. Stick the pictures in the right place on your giant road. Vehicles on the road, people on the pavement and in the park!
You: Practise with the children key road safety words related to what’s in the picture. Can you see a …..? How many ……? What colour is the…..? Then stick your giant road on the wall as part of a road safety display. Make sure your display is somewhere parents will see it.
2. Looking and listening skills
What can you hear? What can you see? What can you sing?
You: Record some road sounds, or find them online: car, fire engine, motorbike, bicycle bell, a pedestrian crossing beeping. Play these sounds to children getting them to match them with appropriate pictures, and saying what makes what noise, for example, ‘The blue car goes brum brum brum, The big red fire engine goes nee nah nee nah….' etc.
The children: Sit in a circle and guess the noises when you play them, matching them to the pictures you show them.
3. Giant handprint display
Create a giant poster of children’s hand prints and write ‘We hold hands’ at the top, and display it where parents as well as children can see it.
Age 5-7 teaching ideas
Give the children scenarios to consider and discuss as a group, if you can, using pictures, film clips or even demonstrations on the playground or in the school hall. For example, ‘Ahmed’s ball is in the road because he threw it over the fence by accident. What should he do now?’ or ‘Where is a safe place to play? Let’s name some around here.’ ‘Why does a cycle helmet help you stay safe?’
Draw or paint posters of people on pavements holding hands and vehicles on roads. Discuss how holding hands keeps children safe. Write road safety slogans for the posters and display them where parents will see them.
Paint an ambulance in its bright colours. Discuss why it is painted brightly - so people can see it coming, when it’s travelling fast. Discuss, with appropriate sensitivity, how the ambulance could be carrying someone to hospital who has been hurt on the road. You can help make sure this isn’t you by staying away from the road, and wearing something bright so drivers see you.
Experiment with wheels. In a large room, send a large toy truck racing across the floor. Discuss how trucks go faster because they are on wheels. Wheels are fast, and traffic can go really fast – much faster than the faster person can run. A car or truck might look a long way away but it can get to you fast and hit you hard.
Do a seat belt experiment. Belt up a small teddy into a toy car using ribbon. Put another teddy in another toy car without a seat belt. Carry out experiments using slopes and obstacles to demonstrate that the teddy who doesn’t wear a seat belt can fall out and get hurt.
Shine torches. Use a room with blinds, and shut them. Then shine torches on high visibility vests that the children wear. This is a good experiment to do if you have dark mornings or evenings in the winter, and provide children high-visibility gear, to encourage them to wear it.
Sing a road safety song with actions using the words stop, go, pavement and hold hands. You could invent new verses to ‘Wheels on the bus’ such as ‘The children and the grown ups all hold hands, all hold hands, all hold hands’.
Listen to some road noises you have recorded or play off the internet, e.g. an ambulance, car, pedestrian crossing beeping. What are they? Can the children match them with pictures you hold up? Listen out for noises on roads; it can warn you that traffic is coming.
Age 7-11 teaching ideas
Most children in this age range have a better understanding of death and injury than you may think. With sensitivity, it’s important to develop children’s knowledge and engagement with the concepts of hazards (things that are dangerous); risk-taking (things you do that expose you to danger); and the consequences of risk-taking (death and injury).
The ideas are best used in conjunction with practical pedestrian training and activities, which your local authority may be able to provide. Alternatively you could run training yourself, in the first instance on school grounds well away from traffic, and building up to a well-supervised walk on safe pavements/paths near your school, which is risk-assessed in advance.
Use a ‘hands-up survey’ to help you get the children thinking about road safety through a discussion-based lesson. You could then use the results to inform further road safety lessons and carry out wider road safety campaigns. Create your own survey, making sure each answer can be answered yes or no (so you get a show of hands for each and write down the number of hands put up), or use Brake’s sample survey for 5-11 year-olds, or whichever questions from it you think are most relevant for your students.
Run a discussion
You could use these questions as starting points. You could also show an appropriate road safety video or advert at the start to help spark discussion – see our tools & resources page.
- Let’s start with the basics. Who can tell me how to cross a road safely? (See game about crossing safely.)
- Does everyone do this? Has anyone run across a road, crossed somewhere dangerous, or been pushed into the road by someone? Let’s share our stories. Why did you do it? (Answers are likely to include in a rush, had to get over the road, not thinking or because it was exciting.) How did it make you feel?
- What happens to children on foot and bicycles who are hit by a car or a bigger vehicle, such as a lorry? (Answers likely to include death and various injuries.) If someone is very seriously injured, how could it affect their life? (For example, it may mean they have to use a wheel chair and can never walk again.) If you could never walk again how would it affect your life? (Answers likely to include couldn’t play football, couldn’t dance.)
- How do drivers sometimes break the rules and put people in danger? (Answers are likely to include driving too fast, being distracted, drink driving.)
- If you are trying to cross the road, and you see a car far away, can you tell how quickly it will get to where you are standing? No, because it will depend how fast that driver is going, and they could be speeding.
- Why is it safer if drivers slow down? How long does it take a vehicle to stop if they are driving at different speeds? (See stopping distances activity.)
- Does anyone know the speed limit outside our school? Do we think drivers stick to that limit? Are there any signs or road markings that remind drivers the school is here, and they should drive carefully?
- Has anyone got ideas about how we can encourage drivers to drive more safely in the area? What about persuading parents to drive more safely? (Answers are likely to include posters, adverts, letters to parents, talking to our parents).
Write or read stories and write and perform plays
Write a story or play script about someone being hurt in a crash. What happened? Why? What choices did the characters make that led to the injury? What were the consequences of this?
Be ambassadors for road safety
Get children to write poems or songs on road safety for younger children, to help teach them basic road safety lessons. Get the older children to perform them in front of the younger children. By doing this, you will be helping the older children reaffirm the importance of the messages. You can also use this as an opportunity to ask the older children to look out for younger children. Do you have a younger sister or brother? It’s really important for your parents or you to always hold their hand, keep them away from roads, and help teach them how to cross safely.
Getting messages across to parents
Write, paint, draw, film or design road safety adverts for parents about the importance of driving slowly and safely when kids are about. Make a road safety display in your reception area for parents using these adverts.
Study road safety in maths and science
How many people die and are hurt on roads? In numeracy, you could work out how many classrooms are killed and injured each year. How many people are killed or injured every minute? You can explore global facts and figures on infographics in the tools & resources section, or research into different road safety topics on the fact pages of the Brake UK website. Or you may be able to find statistics on road casualties on your government’s website.
Study cycle/moped helmets. Crash test eggs with and without specially-made helmets. Use these links to find out more about car crash protection and helmet protection.
Study the properties of reflective and fluorescent materials, using a high visibility vest and blacked out rooms and torches. Talk about being bright at night and on dull days.
Age 11-14 teaching ideas
Hold a discussion about the benefits of walking and cycling for health, and the hazards this exposes you to. Explore why people on foot and bicycles are more at risk of being killed or injured than people in vehicles. Explore how motor vehicles are damaging to society, and the importance of enabling people to walk and cycle safely.
Explore areas in which pupils feel they need to extend their knowledge of road safety - e.g. bicycle maintenance. You could devise a quiz to test their knowledge.
Devise and carry out a survey of the risks that people take on roads and their motives for doing so. Focus on surveying a particular ‘group’ such as fellow pupils who cycle, parents who drive to school, or older pupils who drive or are considering driving. For example, a survey on 13-year-olds’ attitudes to cycle helmet wearing, or a survey of 17 year-olds’ attitudes to speed limits. Download our sample survey for teens on walking and cycling.
Explore the aftermath of crashes. Ask pupils to write a fictional newspaper article about a crash caused by a young driver that caused a death and serious injuries, including interviews with a police officer who attended the scene, and a bereaved family member. To help pupils understand the severity of injuries in road crashes, you could consider inviting a local A&E nurse or surgeon to talk to students about life-changing injuries (some children may think that injuries are always minor or recoverable, so this can help them realise their severity).
Study momentum and stopping distances. Why does it take vehicles longer to brake and stop if they are going at faster speed or are heavier? Use our stopping distances activity.
Study scientific improvements in road safety, such as seat belts, air bags, crash helmets, protective clothing for motorbike riders, reflective and fluorescent materials. Devise science tests to demonstrate the effectiveness of such improvements, such as how reflective material glows in the dark when a light is shone on it. Stress that scientific improvements help to improve safety, but people also need to be committed to using roads safely.
Survey local roads for hazards (e.g. fast traffic - your local police force may be able to visit you and carry out speed checks outside the school with the children) and for road safety measures (e.g. crossings, wide pavements, cycle paths, and lower speed limits). Show these hazards and road safety measures on a map, or take photos or videos. Create a display for other pupils and parents.
Create a poster or advert about a road safety issue, such as the importance of concentrating when crossing the road, for example, by making sure you aren’t texting or listening to headphones at the same time.
Write and perform a play that explores the temptations and pressures for to take risks on roads, and the possible consequences. For example, being in a hurry, or being with friends who want to mess about on the road with a football, or being with older friends who want you to get in a car with a dangerous driver who speeds. Discuss the emotions pupils feel in these situations and how to ‘speak up’ for the safe option.
Watch road safety TV and cinema adverts and look at road safety poster campaigns (such as those in the tools and resources section). Are they effective? Do they get the message across to you? If not, could you do any better?
Age 14-18 teaching ideas
Analyse the benefits and disadvantages of different modes of road transport, ranging from walking to cycling, from cars to buses. Explore issues such as safety, pollution, congestion, noise, health, and the well-being of communities.
Explore in-depth a set of statistics relating to road casualties, over a period of years. Look for increases or decreases and explore the possible reasons for these. For example, look at increases in drink driving casualties over the past decade, or the large number of deaths on roads of motorbikers, or the large number of young drivers who get hurt compared with older drivers. You can usually obtain road casualty data from your national government’s website. Or you could explore some of the statistics on different road safety topics on the facts pages on Brake’s UK website.
What can be done to improve behaviour of road users? Pick topics that will have direct relevance to young people. For example, how important is it to wear protective clothing and a helmet on a motorbike? What are the dangers of driving on drugs or alcohol? Are there some issues that lots of people misunderstand, like the dangers of using a hands-free phone kit at the wheel, or driving after one or two drinks? Should there be advertising campaigns? Or tougher laws and enforcement? What can be done to help people understand the risks and get into safer habits?
Have a debate on a contentious topic. Some cyclists think that cycle helmets shouldn’t be compulsory because it will discourage people from cycling. Other people, particularly neurosurgeons, say that helmets are life-saving and if adults wear them, then children will be encouraged to do so. Do you think there should be a law making helmets compulsory when cycling on roads? Have someone speak for helmets, and someone against. Do some research online before the debate, in groups. Have a vote at the end of the debate.
If you’re working with young people who mainly drive, or are considering learning, attend a free Brake webinar on how to run workshops based on Brake’s road safety Pledge, which you can deliver to young people on an ongoing basis.
Carry out an in-depth survey of local roads and suggest road safety improvements (eg. road markings, a speed camera, crossings, regular police patrols). Your local authority may be able to give you information about any planned road safety improvements, or criteria for implementing these. As part of your survey, write and carry out a questionnaire for local people about their perceptions of local roads and if they think anything needs improving. Use our policy campaign page for guidance on working with local officials to achieve road safety engineering measures.
Use road safety as the theme for a creative project, such as designing a website, producing a video, producing a play, or running a media campaign for local people. Run this project over a term and have quantifiable outcomes - e.g. hits on the website, or the amount of coverage obtained in local newspapers.
- Go back to our step by step guide for schools on running a Road Safety Week
- See tools and resources you can use to support your teaching activities
- Sign up to Brake’s termly bulletin for educators, for road safety updates
- Read our guide on running a local policy campaign, and on publicity and the media