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Main barrier to active school travel is fear over safety, survey finds

Patrick McDonnell
09 January 2018
42% of parents say safety fears stops them from allowing their children to actively travel to school
42% of parents say safety fears stops them from allowing their children to actively travel to school


Fears over safety is the main reason why parents and carers will not allow their children to actively travel to school in Scotland, reveals new research.

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

It found that 42.4% of parents cited a range of concerns over active travel to school. These included unsafe walking and cycling routes, a lack of or inadequate pavements, ineffective or lack of crossings and unsafe school entrances. Dangerous driving was another major factor preventing their children from walking, cycling or scootering to school.

Some 29% of parents also said that a lack of cycle routes was a major barrier for their child travelling actively to school each day. The survey, of 1,232 parents from across Scotland, further revealed that convenience was a key factor for 32% of respondents. This, found the survey, influenced whether or not their children travelled actively to school. A lack of time (24.7%) was 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.

Lynn Stocks, Sustrans Scotland’s acting head of behaviour change, 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.”

Funds such as Sustrans Scotland’s Safer Routes to School can help make routes to school and school entrances and pavements safer, and help to make active journeys safer and easier for parents and children, said Stocks. But she added: “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.”

School Travel Survey for Parents

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