Safety fears cited as main reason why more children don’t travel actively to school

Twenty nine percent of parents said a lack of cycle routes was a barrier for their child travelling actively to school each day

8 January 2018

Fears over physical safety has been cited as the main barrier preventing parents and carers from allowing their children to travel actively to school, new research has revealed.

The findings come from the School Travel Survey for Parents, released today by Sustrans Scotland and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

It found that 42.4% of parents felt that unsafe walking and cycling routes, a lack of or inadequate pavements, ineffective or lack of crossings, unsafe school entrances and dangerous driving were all major factors which prevented their children from walking, cycling or scootering to school.

Twenty nine percent of parents also said a lack of cycle routes was a barrier for their child travelling actively to school each day.

The survey, of 1,232 parents from across Scotland, also revealed that convenience for parents was a key factor in influencing whether or not their children travelled actively to school (32.0% of responses). A lack of time (24.7%) was also the third highest barrier for parents when it came to active travel for their children.

Safety concerns were the common theme for parents in urban and rural areas along with areas of high and low deprivation in Scotland. In rural and deprived areas these concerns manifested themselves in higher levels of driving and bus travel, along with more children being accompanied  to school by an adult in areas of high deprivation.

Sustrans Scotland Acting Head of Behaviour Change Lynn Stocks said:

"These findings formalise what we have been hearing anecdotally from parents and teachers for some time.

"Increasing the number of pupils travelling actively to school is a simple way of providing children with the moderate intensity of exercise required every day.

"However it is clear that as long as parents feel that these journeys are not safe, they will be unwilling for their children to travel actively.

Whilst funds such as Sustrans Scotland's Safer Routes to School, which can be used to make routes to school and school entrances and pavements safer, help to make active journeys safer and easier for parents and children, it is clear that there is still more which needs to be done to improve safety around schools if we are to encourage healthy travel habits in children which can last a lifetime.

Eileen Prior, Executive Director of SPTC, said:

"Parents often get conflicting messages. They are expected simultaneously to be responsible for keeping their children safe, for ensuring they are fit and active, and very often, for getting to work on time.

"These pressures often lead to a vicious circle of competing imperatives. For instance, we know driving too close to schools to drop off children actually creates danger in many ways. Schemes which encourage parents to park and walk; some distance away from school gates, or walking buses, help children to be healthy and remove congestion from outside schools.

"SPTC actively encourages parent groups to work with schools to come up with approaches that help their families to tackle these issues: it is often not an easy fix but sometimes the most difficult things are the most rewarding."

Read our blog on encouraging healthy travel habits in children