Lesson 1: What's the risk?

What are students' perceptions of risk? What are the realities?

Learning objectives

For students to:

  • consider what attitudes influence the road safety behaviour of themselves and other people
  • understand that road safety is a very relevant issue for young people their age
  • form an accurate picture of the risks attached to different situations, including being a pedestrian, a cyclist, a passenger in a car, a motorcycle and moped rider or passenger
  • consider that they may not be able to eliminate risk, but to think about the positive actions they can take to minimise it.


Links to PSHE - 1.3, 1.4, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 4d


1 hour plus extension activity

In this lesson, students explore the Mindset: vox pops interactive activity which presents a series of vox pops in which young people talk about situations relating to road safety, revealing a range of attitudes. Students discuss what shapes young people's attitudes towards road use and their behaviour on the roads, including whether or not knowing the facts makes a difference. They look at statistics demonstrating that road incidents are major causes of death and serious injury to teenagers, then discuss their perceptions of risk versus the realities.


  • Explain that you're going to be looking at what forms our attitudes towards road safety, and how this influences our behaviour on the roads, then think about what can change attitudes - particularly whether knowing the facts makes a difference.

Attitudes and behaviours - 15 minutes

  • As a class, look at the Mindset: vox pops. Students can view the interactive on individual computers and discuss in small groups or it can be used on an interactive whiteboard to prompt a whole-class debate. More detailed teachers' notes on the individual vox pops (PDF 350KB) - new window are provided in a separate PDF.
  • Make the point that people have very different attitudes towards road safety, which influences their behaviour on the roads, and attitudes can change as people get older and experience different things.
  • Use these discussion points to stimulate discussion in response to the interactive. Gather a few ideas from the class or, if more time is available, ask them to come up with some ideas in small groups and report back to the class. You may wish to use the table provided below to guide the class discussion.
    • Ask students to identify what has influenced the attitudes of these young people. How do these attitudes influence their behaviour, positively and negatively? What are the possible consequences? What influences the students' own attitudes?
    • How do the attitudes shown by the young people compare with their own?
    • What does it take to change attitudes and behaviour? (Personal experience, knowing the facts so you can make an informed risk assessment, learning strategies for resisting peer pressure.)
  • Ask students to write down:
    • 3 facts they learnt about road safety
    • 2 positive actions to counter dangerous attitudes/behaviour
    • 1 thing they will do differently as a result of this lesson.

Alternative activity:

  • If you have more time, you could draw a table on the board with the following headings:
    • Person
    • Summary
    • Influences
    • + / –
    • Your reaction
  • Ask students to copy the table in their books, and fill it in for each character, then ask them to use their table to answer the following questions:
    • What is your opinion on road safety?
    • What do other people say? Compare and contrast.
    • How can you change attitudes and behaviours?

Relative risks: perceived and actual - 15 minutes

  • In small groups, ask students to brainstorm events or actions which can result in the death or serious injury of young people.
  • Ask them to write down their ideas on the risk card blanks (one idea per card).
  • Ask each group to share with the class some of the risks they have included. Some suggestions are listed below. Ensure that they include ones related to road safety, prompting the students if necessary.
Relative risks: perceived and actual
  • Being hit by a car
  • Collision while cycling
  • Being in a car crash
  • Being in a motorcycle / moped crash
  • Being a victim of violent / knife crime
  • Being in a plane crash
  • Taking part in sports
  • Falling off a horse
  • Taking illegal drugs
  • Swimming in dangerous waters
  • Being in a house fire
  • Getting a serious illness such as cancer
  • In the same groups, students discuss the risks and arrange their cards in a diamond formation. The point of the diamond, at the top, represents the most risky, and the point at the bottom is the least risky.
  • Feed back as a class: each group gives their top and bottom three risks and explains their decisions.
  • Inform the students that, in terms of any one single factor, road incidents form a significant proportion of the causes of death in their age group. Statistics from the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2008, in the 5-24 age group, road incidents caused 20% of deaths, leukaemia was responsible for 2% and assaults 1.2%. Asthma was responsible for 1.3% of fatalities in the age group.
  • Pick out some other key statistics relevant to the set of risk cards created by the students from the road safety statistics box below. You may wish to hand out copies of the What's the risk? factsheet (PDF 400KB) - new window.
  • If these surprise any of them - why? (e.g. the media focus on more unusual events such as knife crime may make it appear more common than it is. Road incidents do not routinely make the news.)
  • Do students notice that, looking at data, which includes young adults as they become drivers and their passengers, the number of fatalities and serious injuries increases significantly? Point this out to them if not.

Road safety statistics

Appendix A (PDF 250KB) - new window: Numbers of young people killed or seriously injured (KSI) by age and mode of transport in 2009
Appendix B (PDF 300KB) - new window: Contributory factors for reported child pedestrian casualties
Appendix C (PDF 230KB) - new window: Numbers of deaths from various causes of children aged 11–16 in England and Wales, 2008–2009

Other sources of road safety statistics

Managing risk - 15 minutes

  • Explain to students that risk is an important part of everyday life. Being able to judge the benefit compared to the potential harm of a risk is a very important skill that needs to be developed in young people. This will enable students to make informed and sensible choices about the risks that they take. There is often no way to completely eliminate a risk but having the ability to recognise, assess and manage risk is essential to physical safety, mental and emotional well being.
  • Refer back to the risk cards produced earlier.
  • For their top three perceived risks, students work in their groups to suggest positive actions they could take to minimise them. Write the actions on the reverse of the card. Ensure that students spend most time addressing the road risks highlighted below.
Road risks
Pedestrian Cyclist Car passenger

E.g. Don't be distracted, use crossings, resist negative peer pressure, plan routes in advance, don't become a hazard for other road users, make eye contact with other road users, wear light clothing at night, cross in sensible places and use crossings correctly.

E.g. Get cycle training, keep your bike in good working order (tyres, brakes, chains, etc), wear light coloured clothing and fluorescent gear by day and reflective gear at night, use lights, learn and obey the rules of the road, wear a helmet, plan route ahead, make eye contact with other road users, use signals, non-verbal communication.

E.g. Always wear a seatbelt, don't get into the car with a drunk driver, don't distract the driver, tell the driver to slow down if they are speeding, get out of the car on the pavement side.

  • If appropriate, also include:
Road risks continued
Violent / knife crime Sports Drowning

E.g. Don't carry a knife yourself, always let someone know where you are, stick with your friends, stay in well-lit places with lots of passers-by, don't have valuable possessions on display, plan routes in advance.

E.g. Use qualified, reputable instructor, listen to instructions carefully.

E.g. Learn how to swim, obey warning signs and flags at the beach or other open water, don't mess around near water or walk on frozen ponds, canals or rivers.

Taking positive risks - 10 minutes

  • Some risks may actually lead to a more positive outcome. For each of the risks below have groups think of three positive outcomes that may arise from taking the risk. There may be some creative and imaginative suggestions.
    • Auditioning for the school play
    • Talking to someone you don't know at a party
    • Standing in a school mock election
    • Going on a scary ride at a theme park
    • Getting a Saturday job
    • Trying new food
    • Standing up for someone who is being bullied
    • Walking to school instead of getting a lift in a car
    • Cycling
  • Walking and cycling have higher risks than car travel, but have greater benefits in terms of improved fitness, reduced traffic congestion and fewer emissions. Taking positive steps in considering their own attitudes and actions when walking or cycling can increase students' safety. The message is not to be discouraged from walking and cycling just because we are discussing the risks.

Plenary - 5 minutes

  • Has examining the facts changed their attitude towards road safety? Why / why not?
  • What could you do to change dangerous attitudes and behaviours in people you know, so that they become safer road users? How can students take positive actions to counter dangerous attitudes and behaviours so that they and other become safer road users?
  • What could you do to become a safer road user yourself?

Extension or homework

  • What do students think that their parents / carers worry about most? Students ask them to complete the activity that they did at the start of the session.
  • In what order did they rate their risks?
  • How did their parents' risks and order compare with their own?
  • Do they know that death or injury on the roads is the biggest risk for young people?