Young drivers: An international challenge

When to start and what to do about their traffic safety education

The purpose of this presentation is to share some experiences and approaches to traffic safety education for children and teenagers developed by Luchemos por la Vida (“Fighting for Life”), a non governmental, non-profit organization, that works to prevent traffic accidents in Argentina, a developing country with 39 million inhabitants, where 22 people are killed each day (more than 8,000 a year)*, another 130,000 are injured each year, and dramatic material losses (estimated in U$S 10 billion a year)** result from traffic collisions.

What We Know About Youth in Traffic

The World Health Organization estimates that “every day just over 1000 young people under the age of 25 years are killed in road traffic crashes around the world. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death globally among 15 to 19-year-olds, and the second for ages from 10 to 14-years and 20 to 24-years. (1). In our country, Argentina, 2.269 children and teenagers between 13 to 25 years old died last year in traffic.
"The excessive participation of young, male users in accidents is one of the most frequently observed phenomena in traffic all over the world. It is so common that it feels like a law of nature. Its magnitude suggests that (this phenomenon) must involve much more that mere lack of experience”, says American researcher Leonard Evans. In fact, in the analysis of possible causes, specialists agree on the importance of the evolutionary stage where youth under 25 years of age are. It is said that the fatal mix is a combination of immaturity and inexperience.
Youth are influenced by factors such as emotional instability, rebelliousness, influentiability and omnipotence that condition their attitudes and behaviors. They make mistakes when driving, they drive at high speeds, they are easily distracted (especially when driving with their peers) and also as pedestrians, they usually place themselves in limit situations.

What we know about traffic safety education: traffic safety definition, scope and limits

Historically, in most countries, traffic safety education was part of the first efforts to increase traffic safety. In this way, the objective was to pass on information about the rules in force. Studies and evaluations of different educational experiences internationally have proved that traffic safety education based on the mere passing on of technical information does not produce changes in attitudes or behaviors. Equally ineffective are the results of drivers’ training courses taught in high school; because they contribute to earlier licensure for young drivers, these programs usually increase motor vehicle fatality rates for young persons (Vernick, 1999).
Courses that teach some driving skills, when taught to young men, the outcome was adverse. Males trained in these skills became overconfident in their ability and now take unnecessary risks, says Dan Mayhew from Canada.
“The belief that the knowledge in and of itself will change the behavior of drivers and other road users is a naïve vision of the human behavior”, says Allan Williams, Insurance Highway Institute chief scientist.
Then, you might think, all traffic safety education efforts might as well be dropped, since it is not effective in itself. Yes, it is true; traffic safety education as a mere passing on of information about traffic safety signs and rules should be dropped. That does not work. But, of course, that is not what traffic safety education really is, in a wide sense.
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.

- Considering this, the main objective of traffic safety education must be to make students aware of the fact that they are an active and responsible part of the traffic system.

We at Luchemos por la Vida promote traffic safety education in a wider sense, together with more effective law enforcement (Education + Enforcement), a combination that has proved being most effective in changing towards safer behaviors in traffic.

How to Work With Youth

In fact, traffic safety education, in a wide sense, starts practically, through the parents’ example to their children as they start walking with them when they are very little. That is why, most of the times, children learn wrong behaviors directly from their parents.
Therefore, to have safer youth in traffic, we need to work with adults, so that they become safe adult drivers that can be a model or an example of safe behavior in traffic. They must also warn their children about the risks that they face when they are little children and later, as young persons; to protect them when they are little and to guide them and supervise them when, as young persons, they start to drive.
And we must work with young people before they get to that age; when they are still children, so that they understand and internalize, just as adults must do, two basic elements: traffic as a system that they create in interdependence with others, and the concept of risks in traffic, learning to distinguish risky behaviors from those that are not, both in theory and in fact.
It is essential to provide them at the ages of 11 to 13, when they evolve in their intellectual development from the stage of concrete operations to the ability of abstract thought that allows them to establish associations and relations that facilitate a wider understanding and perception of risk. Besides, they are in an age where there is still a greater openness to the adult figure and authority, with a lesser influence of the peer group.

Working with adults and children will contribute to making a generation of youth with greater risk awareness.

How does Luchemos por la Vida promote traffic safety among youth?

We decided to develop a multiple-approach plan aimed at the individual “in the community” to generate a social change of attitude towards traffic accidents and behavior on the streets, and a better awareness about traffic “as a system” in order to provoke changes in the system of individual beliefs and attitudes. To do this, we decided work among: mass media, government and traffic safety education.

Mass awareness campaigns, by means of advertising spots on radio and TV. Since 1992, through some free time mainly from voluntary donation of radio and TV companies, our association carried out the only campaign that has been on the air for more than seventeen years now, designed to prevent more road accidents, aiming continuously to make people aware of the serious problem of traffic accidents, in order to increase the “perception of risk” among road users and provide concrete information on safe behaviors connected with the main factors causing accidents and mortality in traffic (speeding, drinking and driving, night driving, use of seat belts, helmets, etc.).

Some of these campaigns are specially focused on children and youth issues.
Let us watch one of the first campaigns (1994) created by the Association, dealing with pedestrian safety. (Click here)

This spot had a high impact on the community and the follow up to the campaign showed a slight increase in safe behaviors of pedestrians and a greater impact on pedestrian priority.

Another example of awareness campaigns aimed at youth was this one: “Safe Summer” (2009) (Click here)

Finally, we can watch the campaign that is currently being aired, geared towards the youth segment, to encourage helmet use (Click here), that, starting with the most common conceptions and reasonings about not wearing a helmet, aimed at a cognitive restructuring with the provision of related information.

The question that arises is, have these campaigns been effective? After different kinds of follow up through surveys and systematic follow up observations, we can say that yes, they have, but to a limit.
Yes, because:
The message was received.
The message was understood.

Changes of behavior occurred in relation to the subject..
But, as it happens all over the world, campaigns have certain limits, since, as it is known, education only is not enough.

Campaigns are indispensable, but not sufficient to change the conduct of the majority.
Other things are need as well:
-Effective controls
-Effective punishment

In our experience, we agree with Peter Vulcan: “Advertising is very effective only when accompanied by high levels of controls and punishment”. However, in and of themselves, they are also a very helpful tool for the population in general and for youth in particular.

Traffic Safety Education in Schools
“Schools for Life” and “Young People for Life” Programs

From its beginning in 1990, “Luchemos por la Vida”, has been investigating and working intensely in the area of Traffic Safety Education in schools. We developed a systematic concept of traffic: this educational approach has been successfully applied in Argentina for fourteen years now, with more than 150.000 children and teenagers ages 6-18, and has been promoted among teachers and public officials.

OBJECTIVES: To develop in children and youth a preventive awareness of traffic accidents, to motivate and to start new attitudes, behaviors and habits, responsible and solidary, for the preservation of life on public roads.
Let us see one of the activities that take place inside the classroom, aimed at children ages 11-13, called “The Street Game”. With this simple “game” in the classroom, they experienced 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.

METHODOLOGY: Starting from a pedagogic “constructivist” approach, objectives are planned to be met through participatory activities, in the form of “workshops” where the students are the true protagonists of the action. With group techniques, starting from their experiences and beliefs.

Preparation of Specific Teaching Materials

Our most recent production is the DVD film: “Pedestrian Hunters”.
This new teaching material developed by our Association will be offered at no cost to public and private elementary schools that request it.

The film promotes student participation and stimulates their ability to reflect on the subject of traffic system and safe pedestrian behaviors. Using a funny and exciting story that has a group of children as the main characters, it shows the most common risky behaviors of children and adult pedestrians, in order to encourage the audience to reflect on what they are watching. A guide for classroom activities will be provided with this film.

Other initiatives

Different initiatives such as gradual granting of driving licenses, that limit the mobility of young drivers in their first stages, avoiding riskier situations such as night driving, driving with peers, etc.; the involvement of parents accompanying and monitoring the first stages of driving; BAC tests in areas where young people often “hang out” at night; and encouraging the “designated driver” approach, are some of the tools that our Association promotes.


Undoubtedly, the traffic system poses risks for the human being, who is changing and vulnerable, especially when young.
As we have said before: Even though we know that “technology, infrastructure, legislation and enforcement must be subservient to adequate behavior (Huguenin, 2005), according to the acceptance that the human error is impossible to be totally eradicated in traffic”, we think the time of educational and awareness intervention is not over. Especially in developing countries that have huge problems to implement an effective enforcement of the law.
Developing countries need to build up, as the World Health Organization says, “a new traffic safety vision with a more interdisciplinary and integrative approach, thorough intersectorial collaboration, targeted policies and national action plans”. And non governmental organizations, as Luchemos por la Vida, can make valuable contributions in this field.


• Evans, Leonard, “Traffic Safety and the driver”.1999.
• Huguenin, Denis, Traffic Psychology in a new social setting. ICTTP 3rd. International Conference on Traffic and Transport Psychology. September 5-9. Elsevier. Nottingham. UK.2004
• Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “Status Report” magazine, Vol. 36, Nº 5, 2001
• Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “Status Report” magazine, Vol. 42, Nº 7, 2007
• Isoba, María Cristina “Manual para la conducción segura” "Luchemos por la vida" Dosmildos Editora. 2002
• Isoba, María Cristina “Sólo con educación no se hacen conductores más seguros” "Luchemos por la vida" revista - Año 6 - Nº 19
• La Prevention Routiere International. “Traffic Safety Education at the Secondary School level” in the EU Countries, 1999.
• Martinez Jiménez, Tomás. “Evaluación de la percepción del riesgo en la infancia y la adolescencia”. Universidad de Valencia.1998.
• Toroyan T, Peden M (eds), “Youth and Road Safety”, Geneva, World Health Organization, 2007.
• Vernick, J.S. “Effects of high school driver education and public information on motor vehicles crashes, violations and licensure”. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 16 40-46 . AC 1999