THE TRADITIONAL "stop, look and listen" road safety message could be putting children's lives at risk, according to researchers.
Psychologists at the university of Lincolnshire and Humberside have found that children cannot tell how close a car is by listening.
The researchers played road recordings to children of different ages and asked them to judge which car sounded closer. They found that all age groups were bad at judging distance but that judgement improved with age.
Worst of all at the tests were children under the age of eight. Most worryingly, they also tended to be the most confident in their judgements, even when they were totally wrong.
Peter Barnecutt, senior lecturer in psychology at the university, said younger children were more likely to have their view of traffic obscured because they were smaller.
He said: "The old Green Cross Code about stop, look and listen has not properly investigated 'listen'.
"Road safety should be about stop and look alone. If they are somewhere where they cannot see, they shouldn't try to cross at all."
His team of researchers looked at 60 subjects in three age groups - five to eight-year-olds, ten-year-olds and 14-year-olds to adults.
In each case, they measured their reactions to distance, direction and car speed, including asking people to say whether traffic was going towards them, past them or away. Young children made most errors when the car was coming towards them, saying it was going past or away.
They were also poor at judging whether a car looked bigger because it really was, or because it was closer to them.
The study identified significant improvements in judgement after the ages of eight and again after the age of ten.
David Rogers, road safety advisor with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "We have known for a long time that children cannot judge speed and distance at all until they are about ten. The road safety message should only be used as part of a broader code. It is a life skill."