A couple of weeks ago my nine-year old son asked if he could cycle to school. His request was unsurprising: we live in Cambridge where just about everyone cycles; he knows how to ride on the road with traffic; and his older brother and sister already cycle independently. Why not cycle to school?
About the author
Michael Frearson is a Director at The Association of Bikeability Schemes (TABS) and a NSI Trainer with Outspoken National Training Organisation in Cambridge.
I surprised myself by hesitating before saying ‘yes’. Getting to school unaccompanied is a big step for children, and a leap of faith for parents. Will they be okay? Is it better to accompany them to school or allow them the independent mobility they crave?
Parents’ anxieties over road danger stop children having the freedom and independence we once enjoyed. According to Sustrans' Campaign for Safer Streets, parents of children aged 7-10 are now more worried about road danger than stranger danger. Almost half (44%) of primary-aged children are driven an average of just 1.8 miles to school, a distance that could be cycled easily in 15 minutes. With more and more overweight and obese children, what should parents’ priorities be when deciding how their children get to school?
Despite declining levels of physical activity, children aged 10-15 still cycle more than any other age group in the population. Yet recently released data for reported road casualties involving pedal cyclists in Great Britain show 11% fewer child cyclist casualties in 2013 compared to 2012, the lowest level since records began in 1979.
The vast majority of these injuries are slight rather than serious. Moreover, in absolute and proportional terms, child cyclist casualties have decreased over the past four years.
[Note: in the second chart, results for ‘slightly injured’ and ‘all casualties’ are the same.]
Today half of all children in England participate in Bikeability training before they leave primary school. Launched in 2006, Bikeability provides children (and adults) with the skills and confidence they need to cycle on today’s roads. It enables independent decision making for safe cycling strategies, with better observation and communication, better understanding of where to ride on the road, and better knowledge of rights of way and how to use them.
Bikeability is extremely popular with schools and children, but many parents are unaware of the skills and confidence for independent mobility Bikeability delivers. Early results from a survey of 9 and 10 year olds in Cambridgeshire (n = 453) conducted for TABS in May 2014 (The Bikeability School Travel Survey, forthcoming September 2014) suggest that children who have passed their Bikeability at Level 2 are more likely to cycle and less likely to be driven to school, and are more likely to cycle on the road with traffic than on the pavement, compared with untrained children.
Schools and children are already well aware of the difference Bikeability makes, but more work is needed to communicate these benefits to parents. Of course one of the best ways to do this is for parents to experience Bikeability as adult trainees!
So in addition to increasing funding for safe routes to school, the future of Bikeability must also be secured to help more children and adults develop their skills and confidence for cycling on the road to school, work and other places.
After two weeks of cycling independently to school I asked my nine-year old son how his trip to school was. “The usual – brilliant” was his reply. Bikeability helps make every cycle trip brilliant.
Find out more about how Sustrans can help deliver cycle training