Parental fear about the dangers of cycling has led to a drastic drop in the number of children biking to school - and more cars on the road.
"Kids cycling to school in urban areas is declining because parents think it's dangerous," Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse said.
"It's a paradox because now there are more cars on the road to get kids to school."
Between 1989 and 2013, the number of children aged 5 to 17 cycling to school dipped sharply. In 1989 they clocked about 35 million kilometres while riding to school, but by 2013 that distance had dropped below 10 million km.
Over the past 25 years there has also been a steep drop in school- age cyclists riding bikes for fun, to shop, socialise or for errands.
Woodhouse spoke yesterday at the inaugural meeting of the Cycling Safety Summit, a panel convened to make recommendations on how to curb cycling deaths and improve road safety.
Greens transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said cycling was every child's birthright, but parents had begun to perceive biking to school as dangerous.
"It's a classic part of growing up in New Zealand. It's how kids stay fit, learn about their environment and be independent with their friends . . . it should be seen as a safe and normal activity."
Genter pointed to NZ Transport Agency research, which showed school travel boosted overall traffic congestion, with a third of all morning rush-hour trips related to school dropoffs.
Agency studies also identified a gulf between the perceived dangers of cycling to school and the actual risk, and found that an extremely low crash rate might be needed before parents felt walking or cycling to school could be "deemed inherently safe and even then, it is the perception of it being unsafe that is likely to be the biggest barrier".
- The Dominion Post
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