Young people on mopeds, especially teenage boys, are the most at-risk group among students travelling to and from school, according to figures from the Vias traffic institute.
Between 2014 and 2018, Vias reports, 8,121 school students were injured in road traffic accidents while travelling to and from school. In most cases injuries were slight, although there were 19 deaths in the period of young people aged between six and 18 years.
Almost half of all victims – 43% to be exact – were aged between 16 and 18. And while the behaviour of other road users is important in the cause of accidents, the conduct of young people themselves is often a determining factor, according to Werner De Dobbeleer of the Flemish Traffic Science Foundation (VSV) speaking to De Standaard.
“Starting at puberty you see young people taking more risks in traffic,” he said. “Especially among boys, where testosterone starts to play a role. We know for example that they attach less importance to good bicycle lights, and are less likely to wear a helmet or high-visibility jacket.”
Another risk factor is the introduction into the equation at that age of the moped. While the vast majority of children go to school on foot, by bicycle, on public transport or are driven by a parent, still 43% of all accidents involve a teenager on a moped, compared with 38% involving a young person on a bike.
“A moped is a dangerous mode of transport for young men,” according to Stef Willems of Vias. “They’re unable to evaluate risk properly.” Also contributing to the danger is the switch from one mode of transport to another less familiar one; figures show that the same phenomenon appears among new car drivers aged 18 to 21.
According to the experts, while improved infrastructure has a role to play, the most important development would be better education for young people, including at home, with parents introducing children to traffic at an earlier age. Nowadays young people in many cases are only travelling to school alone for the first time at the age of 14 or 15.
Meanwhile the Flemish government has introduced from this year a new requirement for young people in the first and second years of secondary school to take classes in road safety. An important step, said De Dobbeleer, but one that could usefully be extended to later years as well.