Time for the School Run

Working out the routine of getting the kids to school

The summer holiday is over. You've spent the last few weeks sorting out the school kit, new uniforms and books. Now you just need to get the kids to school. Is there a school bus? Will you encourage them to walk? Or are you going to join the 'school run' and the mayhem of dropping off the little darlings outside the school gates?

It doesn't matter whether you are new to this game or your children are entering their teenage years. School and sixth-form years bring concerns by the satchel-full – not least of which is road safety.

Perhaps this is why fewer than half of children walk to school even though the majority live within a mile of their school, according to Living Streets, the national charity that stands up for pedestrians. At peak school times the charity estimates that up to one in five cars on Britain's roads are 'on the school run'.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, says it is a popular myth that the chaos outside schools is a peak time for casualties – in fact the opposite is true.

"The melee of cars and pedestrians outside the school gates acts as a natural traffic calming measure," he says. "Figures obtained from the Department for Transport by the AA show that 80 per cent of collisions involving kids are during the school holidays, at weekends and during the afternoon and evening, after the end of the school day: but not outside the school gates. Boys – who are more likely than girls to play outside with their mates than girls – are twice as likely to have an accident, and this is most likely to happen close to their own home."*

The biggest casualties are, in fact, the vehicles that are used to take children to and from school. Simon points out: "Anecdotally, AA Insurance claims staff find claims for minor bumps and collisions significantly increase during term time – when careless parking and reversing results in parents hitting other cars, gates, trees or lamp posts. But because speeds are very low, damage is usually relatively minor and casualties outside school are, thankfully, rare."

However, the cost of repairing even minor accident damage is rising, which is one of the contributors to the fastest increases in average car insurance premiums for decades.

"Modern cars are full of technology and are designed to absorb impact with crumple zones, so repairing what might seem fairly minor damage can be costly. What's more, equipment such as mirrors and light clusters are quite complex," adds Simon.

"Once upon a time, if you knocked off a door mirror on a gate post it was relatively inexpensive to repair the body damage and fit a new mirror. But modern mirrors are more than just a mirror – they have electric motors to move them at the flick of a switch; they're heated to keep them clear in frosty weather; they may have indicator repeater lights built in; and some even fold inwards when you lock the car. Knock one of those off and you could be looking at a bill of well over £1,000."

Congestion outside schools is a major concern of local authorities. "If your youngster can walk to school then clearly it is good exercise," says Simon. "But if distance precludes that it is certainly worth considering car sharing."

An AA/Populus poll of 2,128 AA Members who have schoolchildren showed that the average family is spending over £340 a year on fuel just taking their kids to school and elsewhere.** Some parents (11%) travel up to 4,000 miles per year, forking out a whopping £687 on fuel.

Simon points out that AA Car Insurance specifically includes car-sharing cover. "Provided you don't cram more kids in the car than there are seatbelts for, this can be a very economical solution and helps to reduce congestion and pollution."

And if you are driving in the vicinity of a school, keep your speed down and watch out for youngsters who may be absorbed with their mobile phone or i-Pod – and not paying attention to the traffic when they're crossing the road.

* The AA Motoring Trust, 2003. 'The facts about road accidents and children'.
** AA/Populus survey of 2,128 AA Members that regularly take their children to school and to after-school activities. Research was conducted 16–23 February 2010.