Using Virtual Reality to Keep Kids Safe
November 18, 2015
Scientific American — Despite preventative safety education, traffic accidents remain one of the most common sources of injuries and fatalities for children around the world. Dr. Anat Meir, a lecturer and researcher in BGU’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, is studying exactly which behaviors lead to accidents, with the goal of finding ways to correct them.
In order to accomplish this without putting anyone in danger, Dr. Meir turned to virtual reality.
Dr. Meir and her colleagues simulated 18 prototypical streets in Israel and used an eye-tracking device to study how 46 adults and children (ranging in age from seven to 13) evaluated when it was safe to cross.
Children aged seven to nine, they found, exhibited the least caution when crossing, typically deciding to step into the virtual road with little or no hesitation, even when their field of vision was restricted.
“We had parents looking on who were like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe my child just crossed there!’” Meir says. “It caused them to reassess their child’s road-crossing abilities.”
Older children tended to linger on the curb for an inordinate amount of time—an indication that they are less able to distinguish between safe and hazardous situations than adults—and in interviews did not express an understanding of how factors such as car speed and field of vision affect crossing safety.
Luckily, interventions do seem to improve crossing success. In Meir’s most recent study, described in Accident Analysis & Prevention, two dozen seven- to nine-year-olds underwent 40 minutes of hazard-detection training. Afterward, Meir and her colleagues compared trainees’ and control kids’ performances in the virtual road-crossing task.
The children who received safety instructions were significantly better at crossing than the control subjects—to the point that their crossing skills resembled those of adults.
“Child pedestrians are responsive to training; actively detecting materialized hazards may enrich child-pedestrians’ ability to cross roads,” the researchers conclude.