Lesson 5: Distraction action

What distracts road users? How can we deal better with distractions? What do learner and new drivers need to be aware of?

Learning objectives

For students to:

  • look at how distractions increase risks for all road users
  • identify what they need to pay attention to, in order to stay safer as a pedestrian, cyclist or driver (when they are able to drive legally)
  • identify what things may distract them when they are using the roads
  • identify what things may distract drivers, which may prevent them from seeing pedestrians and cyclists
  • learn how they can minimise distractions to stay safer.


Links to PSHE - 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 3e, 4d
Citizenship - 4i


60 minutes plus extension activity

In this lesson, students explore a range of distractions via media campaigns and worksheets, and reflect on how these could contribute to road incidents. They think about how they can minimise distractions to stay safer on the roads.

Introduction - Pedestrian distraction - 5 minutes

  • As an introduction, show the Camera phone advertisement, which focuses on pedestrian distraction. This video is hard-hitting, so teachers are advised to use this with older students and only after previewing it to assess suitability for their class. It uses camera-phone-style footage to show a group of young people messing about and enjoying themselves as they walk down a street. As one of the group crosses the road they are not concentrating and are hit by a passing car.
  • After the students have seen the advert, give them these questions to consider. Allow them to watch it a second time if they need to:
    • What is the cause of the accident?
    • How could it have been avoided?
    • What is good about the advert?
    • Why might this be effective?
    • Is there anything you'd change/improve?
  • Alternatively, you could show the Ghosts advertisement, which also focuses on pedestrian distraction, and is suitable for younger students. It shows a boy, listening to an mp3 player, about to cross between parked cars without looking. He stops just in time, and removes his ear phones, as he sees the 'ghosts' of young people who have been hurt on the roads, having been distracted by a mobile phone, a football and a friend. It was written by 12 and 13 year olds who won a competition. See the Ghosts case study (PDF 230KB) - new window for more information.

Why do you need to concentrate on the roads? - 10 minutes

  • After they have seen the advert, tell students that you're going to think about why pedestrians and cyclists need to concentrate, and not be distracted when they're using the roads.
  • Display the Crossing the road flash card (PDF 390KB) - new window, showing a busy street scene, with parked cars, and a right turn. Ask students to work in groups to list all the things that they should do when walking along the left of the road shown, crossing it and turning right, or when cycling along the road and turning right. Older students may also think about driving a car or riding a motorcycle down the road. They should break the task down into small steps. (Pedestrians: Watch out for cars reversing from drive ways, watch out for other pedestrians on the pavement, check that there is no one in the parked cars before standing on the road between them, and that the cars on the opposite side of the road are not about to move off, checking both ways for traffic, continuing to look and listen as they cross. Cyclists: Watch out for pedestrians crossing between parked cars, watch out for doors of parked cars opening into the road, use appropriate signals to turn right.)
  • Discuss students' ideas, which will show how complex these everyday tasks are to highlight the degree of concentration they need to be done safely.

What impact does distraction have? - 10 minutes

  • Next, look at the impact that distraction can have. If a suite of computers is available, ask students to complete the Driving challenge. In this game, users are put in the position of a driver, trying to concentrate on what is happening on the road while listening to a mobile phone conversation. This is suitable for all ages.
  • Students are given the task of observing a driving sequence from the viewpoint of the car driver. They must total up points related to the colour of the tee-shirts worn by pedestrians crossing in front of them and also respond to a mobile phone conversation by pressing the keyboard space bar at appropriate points. If doing the test with a whole class, just ask them to make a mark on a piece of paper so that they can tally their responses once the clip has completed.

Do not discuss this with the students before they view the clip, but during the sequence a person in a rabbit suit walks into the road and waves to the driver. Again, very few spot this first time.

  • Even though the focus of this activity is on car drivers, the point that it makes about distraction applies to all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists. It is also useful for students to understand that as well as realising that they can be distracted themselves, as pedestrians and cyclists, drivers can be distracted too, and they can't always rely on them to see them when they are out and about.
  • After playing the game, ask students how they did, and discuss what they learnt from the game:
    • Were students surprised by how difficult it is to concentrate on two things at once?
    • What can they learn as pedestrians and cyclists from this game? (That distractions such as mobile phones can make it difficult for you to concentrate on the road, whether you're a driver, a cyclist or a pedestrian, that although they should be concentrating, some drivers may be distracted, so you can't rely on them to see pedestrians and cyclists.)
    • Who spotted the rabbit? Who didn't? A lot of people don't, which shows how distracting it can be to try to do more than one thing at once.

What things may distract pedestrians? - 5 minutes

  • Other than talking or texting on a mobile phone, what other things that could distract them when they are using the road as either a cyclist or a pedestrian?
    • being in a rush
    • talking with friends
    • thinking deeply about something else / day dreaming
    • listening to music / using an mp3 player
  • Although mobile phones and mp3 players can be a big distraction, the biggest distractions are often the first three things listed above.
  • How will students make sure they are not distracted when using the road?

Driver distraction introduction - 10 minutes

  • This activity reviews distractions from a driver's point of view. It uses a short road safety video or poster advertisement.
    • Split screen (mobile phones) video
      The Split screen (mobile phones) advertisement is hard-hitting. It is recommended that it should only be used with older students and the teacher should preview the video before using it in the classroom. Consideration must be made of those students who may have been affected by a road traffic incident.
    • (The video shows a split screen with a man driving home and his partner at home who has phoned him. The driver is saying to his partner that he will tell her all about his day when he gets home, but she carries on talking. The driver is using a hand-held mobile phone and it shows clearly that the driver is distracted by the conversation and there is a collision. The final scene shows the man slumped in the car with his wife distraught at the other end of the telephone.)
    • Two things at once poster
      Show students the Two things at once poster, which shows how difficult it is to concentrate on two things at the same time to make the point that using a mobile phone while driving causes a distraction. This is suitable for students of all ages.
  • Ask students to discuss the film's or poster's impact:
    • Who is the advertisement aimed at?
    • Is it effective at communicating a road safety message?
    • Could it be improved?
    • What other formats could advertisers use to make this point? (e.g. a radio or TV advertisement where two people talk at once, a game which requires you to do two things at once.)
    • Will it change the way the students think about road safety? How will it do so? Will they try to influence others (for example parents or older brothers and sisters who are drivers) to be safer?

What things may distract drivers, and what can pedestrians and cyclists do to make it more likely that they'll be seen? - 15 minutes

  • Students view a road scene on the Disappearing act activity sheet (PDF 400KB) - new window, seen from the viewpoint of a car driver. They are prompted to think about all the various distractions that may make it difficult for the driver to see cyclists, pedestrians and generally concentrate on driving. Give time for students to work in groups to identify the distractions and suggest actions they could take to be more visible to drivers. Summarise the findings.
  • Distractions to the driver could include:
    • being in a rush
    • talking with people in the car
    • thinking deeply about something else / day dreaming
    • listening to music / adjusting the car radio
    • receiving a phone call or texting on a mobile phone (which is illegal)
    • a mobile phone ringing
    • a baby, toddler or young child in the car
  • Actions that could be taken to be more visible and safer road users include:
    • wearing light or brightly-coloured clothing (especially in the hours of darkness)
    • pedestrians crossing at pedestrian crossings and zebra crossings
    • pedestrians observing traffic before crossing the road (even at a zebra crossing)
    • cyclists wearing a high visibility jacket (lights and reflective strips when dark)
    • cyclists using proper observations before making a manoeuvre.

Reflection - 5 minutes

  • Do students take these actions when they are using the roads? If not, then why not? What could change their behaviour to become safer road users?

Extension activity - Media analysis

  • Ask students to think about what strategies the advertisements that they have seen use to get their message across. How effective are they? Looking at their lists of pedestrian and driver distractions, which areas are well covered? Which areas are less often the focus of campaigns? What subjects would students cover if they were producing similar campaign materials?
  • Students may be interested to look at the road safety campaign driven by a young person, Manpreet Darroch. The Tune into traffic case study (PDF 220KB) - new window is provided. His focus is on the distraction caused by pedestrians using mp3 players.
    • Do students feel that they are more likely to take note of a young person telling them what to do?
    • How do Manpreet's videos compare to the others in terms of effectiveness?
    • How could his ideas be used in other areas of road safety?
    • Is his campaign less effective because it only focuses on one form of distraction (and not the biggest distraction for teenage pedestrians)?
    • What do students think is the biggest distraction for teenage pedestrians?