5 September 2011
the trip to school may never again be the way it was
Starting a new school year next week may usher in radical changes as higher fuel costs, new speed limits, cuts in council transport funding and fewer lollipop ladies means that the trip to school may never again be the way it was.
Even so, the switch from primary to secondary schools will once again expose a new generation of 11 year olds to greater responsibility and danger as they start new routes to school. Higher fuel costs will encourage more parents to consider car-sharing.
Cutting out the car journey to school can reduce traffic, save money and make children more healthy, and there is no time better to do this than the start of the new school year
Edmund King, AA president
A three-mile round trip twice a day uses up at least a litre of petrol. As a litre of petrol costs 19.2p a litre more than a year ago, 39 weeks of the coming school year could cost £37.44 more – equivalent to a new school uniform or a pair of shoes.
Although some councils have been persuaded to delay school bus cuts for another year, others are pressing ahead with either asking parents to contribute more or cut out services altogether. Parents would be wise to take their children on an exploratory trip to find the best and safest route to school, pointing out potential dangers that may not be obvious to an inexperienced youngster. Drivers should be wary of school children getting used to a new route and, perhaps, appearing on roads where they haven’t been seen before.
Many school roads have upgraded from ’20 is plenty’ advisory signs to full-blown 20 mph speed limits. Drivers should obey them or face prosecution, but pedestrians still need to keep their wits about them.
One of the consequences of new 20 mph speed limits is a perceived reduced need for school crossing patrols. Councils have cut back on some lollipop wardens to save money, often helped by difficulties in recruiting people to do the job. This may mark the start of the sad disappearance of a national icon, but the AA believes that councils need to monitor the impact and accident rates closely.
"Cutting out the car journey to school can reduce traffic, save money and make children more healthy, and there is no time better to do this than the start of the new school year," says Edmund King, the AA's president.
"With many children starting school, and others switching to new schools, it is an ideal time for transport habits to change. There may be an empty seat in a neighbour's car if a child has changed school, allowing lift sharing, less cars on the road, and less money spent on fuel.
"A new school may also mean that cycling or walking becomes more practical, or that there are older children who will be able to 'shepherd' younger ones to school."
But changing plans needs thought, and parents need to make sure they understand the problems that their child will face on their journey, especially if they are travelling by themselves. Journeys from home to the bus stop and the bus stop to school can be every bit as dangerous as a full walking trip from home to school.
Statistics show that policies to improve school trip safety have been dramatically effective, reducing child pedestrian casualties from 107 killed and 16,000 injured in 2000 to 26 killed and 8,000 injured last year, which is still too high. The impact of changes at the start of this new school year will have to be monitored closely.
(5 September 2011)