Position Statement

Enable and encourage children to walk and cycle safely to school

Walking SA’s vision is to see more people walking more often.

Walking SA advocates for pedestrian safety, and the maintenance of safe and supportive walking environments throughout South Australia.

Walking SA encourages more children to walk to school.

What is the problem?

We all know the increase in traffic congestion that occurs at the beginning of every school term. More than 70% of primary school children are driven to and from school every day, and parents driving to the school gate for drop-off and pick-ups add to the congestion on the road, while at the same time reducing the safety outside of the school for children who walk.

The increase in congestion adds to the commuting time of all motorists, not to mention waste of time for the parents themselves in driving their children and waiting at the school gate.

Perhaps more serious are the impacts on our children’s health:

  • over 70% of children and over 90% of young people do not meet physical activity recommendations; i
  • declining rates of physical activity are contributing to rising rates of overweight and obesity in children;
  • regular physical activity improves academic performance and concentration;
  • nearly three-quarters of children aged between 10 and 13 would rather take active transport than use a car to get to and from school, citing enjoyment and fitness as the top reasons ii
  • idling engines waiting to pick pupils up adds to localised air pollution; a fact exacerbated by low emissions standards.
  • The evidence tells us that active travel to and from school is effective in increasing physical activity levels. However, rates of active travel to school have declined substantially in Australia since the 1970s, with walking and cycling trips replaced mainly by car trips. ii
  • Parents’ concern about road and personal safety is one of the major barriers to children commuting actively to school. In many cases these fears are exaggerated. In some schools, parents feel pressured to drive their children to school, fearing that they will be seen as negligent if they let their children walk to and from school independently.

What we will do about it

The State Government’s Way2Go program reflects a recognition of these problems and the need to encourage more children to walk and cycle to school iv. WellbeingSA is another initiative within the Government’s health portfolio that focuses on preventative health, partly through encouraging active transport. We will partner with these agencies to pursue our shared objectives.
But there are numerous other bodies that we will work with to encourage walking to and from school: most obviously the schools themselves and relevant local authorities.

We will initially focus on the “low hanging fruit”: schools that have good off-road routes that children can use, and schools that have a clear parking and congestion problem. Successful examples, local where possible, will be used to encourage others.

Other strategies that we will use are:

  • Encourage Councils to provide quality footpaths and other active transport links to schools
  • Providing information and positive examples to parents and schools
  • Identify champions with schools and help them promote change
  • Encourage parents and schools to approach their local MPs and Councils to provide better walking conditions
  • Identify ways that the curriculum could incorporate lessons about travelling to and from school
  • Promote generally the benefits of walking to school
  • Campaign for safe traffic environments around schools, including lower speeds and the creation of traffic-free buffer zones along school boundaries
  • Work with schools to undertake pedestrian audits covering the school catchment area with a view to fixing any perceived or actual safety issues
  • Collect data about the way children go to and from school; data that is comparable across schools and council areas.

For more information contact:

Helen Donovan, Executive Director
Walking SA
www.walkingsa.org.au
helen.donovan@walkingsa.org.au

Position statement as at May 2021.

Footnotes

  • i Lindberg R, 2016. Getting Australia’s Health on Track.
  • ii University of SA, CRCLCL 2018. The creation of socially and environmentally sustainable communities through child and youth friendly places.
  • ii Booth V, 2013. Trends in physical activity among South Australian school children from 1985-2013.
  • iv Garrard J, 2009. Active transport: children and young people. An overview of recent evidence.

Image supplied by Heart Foundation