The purpose of this paper is to introduce a new contents in the subject of road safety education in schools: To develop a systematic concept of traffic, as explicit, basic and introductory contents, and as the main subject around which different approaches to teachings on safety and road safety will revolve, in order for these educational processes to be successful and result in safe and responsible attitudes and behaviors on the part of students, in their behavior on the road and the role they play in the creation of a healthier social and living environment.
This approach has been successfully applied in Argentina for five years now, with children and teenagers ages 6-18, and has been promoted among teachers and public officials, as part of the road safety education and awareness program developed by “Luchemos por la Vida”, a non-profit organization devoted to help prevent traffic accidents. This is the result of observation and analysis of traffic problems in Argentina: both pedestrians and drivers behave in an anarchic and individualistic way, ignoring others and thus causing thousands of accidents that produce terribly high rates of morbid mortality.
Let us start, though, with a concrete example of work in a classroom:
Two road safety teachers come to a school for the first time. After introducing themselves and the institution they represent, the motive of their visit is explained.
Through questions designed to find out how much students know about the subject, the question of the high number of accidents in Argentina is explored.
Immediately after, a definition of accidents and traffic is devised among all.
And then... action begins. The proposal is to go from talking about traffic, to “creating traffic” in the classroom.
Students and teachers move tables and seats and align them pretending they are city blocks. Imagination creates buildings and other parts of the city.
Then, the teacher invites students to go out around the city. Each of them chooses how to do it: driving, on foot, on a bicycle, on a bus, etc.
On “Go!”, children start running along imaginary streets. They laugh, they bump into each other, they crash. After a few minutes of play and experiment, the moment for reflection comes.
- What happened here?, the teacher asks.
- It was a mess, we bumped into each other.
- It was fun!
- I could not get through!
- He ran too fast!
- When they “crashed”, were you, who were coming from behind, able to go through?, the teacher asks.
- No!, they answer in unison.
- So you depended one from the other, eh?
- Of course, one of them says.
- There were multiple crashes, one after the other, says another...
- Why did all this happen?, the teacher asks.
And they answer:
-Because there were no lights... there was no indication of the right way... no walkways...
- And “outside”, in real traffic, are there lights?
- Yes, answer the children.
- Are there marks for one- and two-way streets? Are there walkways?
- Of course, they answer.
- Then why are there accidents?, the teacher finally asks.
- Because people do not obey them, they say.
Comments and ideas go on an on... So does the activity...
With this simple “play” in the classroom, they experimented and felt, physically and emotionally, what “making” traffic and inter-dependency are, and almost simultaneously, they discovered why traffic rules exist. Through the “chaos” of a simulated situation, they discovered and recognized the value of “order”.
Now they can come out on the street from school and start to “think” and “make” traffic with a different mind.
Road safety education is much more than teaching about rules and traffic signs. Much more than just passing on information. Moving on roadways is a process that involves the whole person, in their psycho-physical individual aspects and the way they relate to other people and the environment. That is, it involves a bio-psycho-social and environmental process. That is why, when teaching road safety, we promote the development of the person in their individual, social and ethical dimensions.
That is why we say that road safety is:
This is coincident with present approaches to this subject in European and American countries which are more advanced in road safety. But something that has not been developed enough in most countries is the concept of “traffic system”. We are always talking about traffic safety and traffic safety education, but...
Out of the different definitions that have been created, we choose the one that defines traffic as “the movement of vehicles and persons along roadways under a conventional system of rules”. According to this approach, traffic is a system organized and made up by man. Every person who goes out on to the street makes a part of traffic, in mutual inter-dependency. Every time someone goes out from home and starts to move, they begin to be a part of an overall moving scheme. Everybody who goes out on the street, regardless of their destination, shares the common activity of being moving from one place to another. Each one depends on others to fulfill his or her goal. Individual conduct conditions and influences other people’s, and viceversa. Each road user is responsible for a part of traffic.
Despite the fact that the safety of this system also depends on other elements that are part of it: clear and effective rules; adequate maintenance of the road and good signs; and on the vehicles that run within it, it is people, road users (pedestrians and drivers) who at each moment and each place, with their behavior, finally give shape to and define traffic characteristics.
Considering this, THE MAIN OBJECTIVE OF ROAD SAFETY EDUCATION MUST BE TO MAKE STUDENTS AWARE OF THE FACT THAT THEY ARE AN ACTIVE AND RESPONSIBLE PART OF THE TRAFFIC SYSTEM. THE LEARNING-TEACHING PROCESS MUST ALLOW STUDENTS TO:
Our proposal of starting road safety education working on the concept of “traffic as a system that we all make” has the following advantages:
In this subject, apparently, as in any other question related to the environment and the progress of humanity, overcoming the “individualistic” mind setup and replacing it with an awareness of “being one with others” is key to achieve our goals.
If you wonder whether it is possible to speak about “system” with younger children, for instance, I would say: Yes, but it is better still to “make” the system, to practice the system. The word, “system”, may be used or not, according to the students’ age. In the case of very young children, the basic methodology is:
For the treatment of this concept, as for the development of the other contents of road safety education, we preferably use the teaching resources that are closer at hand: the students themselves, yes, and their immediate environment. We use a “constructing” teaching approach to achieve the learning of new and significant knowledge; that is, knowledge that is not just memorized but that will remain over time and will be useful to solve theoretical or practical problems. To achieve this, we carry out participatory activities, such as workshops, where students are the true protagonists of the action, seeking to stimulate their ability for reflection and observation to solve problematic situations, according to their maturity level and the reality they live and that is significant to them, in order to widen their horizons and give them new capabilities for their community life.
In our work experience, all the contents of road safety education in schools are enriched and made easier when they are related to a systemic concept of traffic. We have heard of many cases in which changes in individual behavior were immediate or the educational community was mobilized to seek more road safety. That is why we are interested in sharing this experience with this distinguished audience so committed to preserve life.