Motor vehicle-related pedestrian injury is among the leading causes of death and hospitalization of school-age children in Canada . Few studies have examined interactions between child perceptual-cognitive factors (e.g. selective attention) and built environmental factors (e.g. urban design) as potential determinants of child pedestrian behaviours and associated injury risk.
This project builds on work currently funded by CIHR where injury information from existing GIS mapping data from Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal is being used to identify hot-spots for child pedestrian injury. Photographs of each hot-spot and physical conditions that potentially contributed to injury risk (e.g. lighting, traffic flow, signage) are being documented during site visits; a case-control design is being used to compare the built environment characteristics at these sites with those at nearby low-injury rate sites and distinguish risk characteristics of the built environment. These risk features are being programmed as scenarios into a fully-immersive 3-D virtual reality environment, maintained at the University of Guelph. Children 6 to 11 years old are being recruited and administered a series of standardized cognitive measures to assess distractibility or selective attention [43, 44], executive function or planning for goal-directed behaviour , and multiple object tracking . These same children are also to be assessed in the virtual reality system, and street-crossing decisions made under various environmental scenarios will be documented. Statistical modeling will focus on the interaction between the built environment and perceptual-cognitive factors as potential determinants of observed child behaviours in the virtual reality environment.
The present research will build on these findings by developing and evaluating different training programs to teach children safe street crossing strategies using the virtual reality system and determining if the same level of results can be achieved by a partly-immersive virtual reality system that is portable and could be taken to schools. A long-term aim of this study is to support the development of policy (e.g. city planning) and child pedestrian-training programs that improve crossing skills and can be administered through schools.