Road Safety GB's Liz Brooker talks about why it is vital that we create an environment that allows children to walk or cycle safely to school and in their community
As the long summer days are rapidly shortening, the autumn coolness is almost upon us, I was thinking about the amount of activity we see in the parks in summer holidays. Parents out with their children walking and cycling – this led me to reflect on when my (now grown up) children started to walk, long before the days where I could film their first steps on my phone.
Initial feeling of pride, quickly followed moving everything that could be pulled off of a shelf. That one memory of my daughter teetering at the top of the stairs with a massive grin while I slowly and stealthily made a grab to save her from falling! How very quickly I fitted a stairgate!! Now I relate my memories to the work I do in road safety……children must be able to walk and explore in safety. The environment we design for all road users is as important as the indoor environment parents create to keep their children safe at home.
We know people make mistakes, yes that’s all of us, and there are times we may not admit it was a mistake but we know we could have done better! Children especially make mistakes, or its more accurate to say they do what adults least expect because we don’t think like children; but there are also times when we all act like children, how many times do we hear someone say ’oh grow up’ or ‘he or she is so immature’- so if we know this is true, we need to make sure everything we do can accommodate for lapses or errors. So if people, that is ‘we’ make mistakes on the road, regardless of age, experience and knowledge, is it right to pay for it? We need to make sure the environment is designed to minimise the risk that the mistake we make will result in a life changing or life ending event. Cars have seat belts, airbags and isofix systems to help protect those travelling in the car. Our roads need the same considerations to make sure we are safe as pedestrians, motorcyclists or cyclists.
Many London Boroughs are piloting School Streets; closing the road at crucial times of the school day to allow children to enter and leave school in a car-free area. Whilst this is fine for roads that lend themselves to being closed, but we also need to consider what we can do on the roads that cannot be closed – this may be looking at other options, may be the entrances that the children use can be changed.
The most important factor is that together we allow children who want to walk or cycle to school to be able to do so in an environment that is as safe as the one we create when they first learn to walk or cycle, that we celebrate the fact our children can walk to school in a social and safe setting free from fear and danger.