Editorial: Let's make it safe for our kids to foot it home from school video

Tracey Gibb's son Joshua Bennie died in 2011 after being hit by a van while cycling to school. The pedestrian crossing ...
CLINTON LLEWELLYN / FAIRFAX NZ

Tracey Gibb's son Joshua Bennie died in 2011 after being hit by a van while cycling to school. The pedestrian crossing recommended by the coroner has still not been built.

OPINION: We launch a campaign for families to walk their kids to schools – and councils to make the roads safer for children.

Enough with the excuses.

A massive 55 per cent of primary school kids are driven to school in the car. That has nearly doubled since 1990.

This is terrible for our children's health, disastrous for traffic congestion, costly in petrol and bad for the environment.

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And you know the real reason we're not taking our kids to school by foot, or on their scooters or bikes? We parents are just plain lazy.

Oh, we have plenty of excuses, of course.

#1  It's too far. In areas with growing populations like Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, there are more schools than there were a generation ago. The number in Auckland, for instance, has grown from 518 in 1996 to 562 now. That means more of us in these areas are within easy walking distance of our local school than ever before.

#2  It takes too much time. With all of us driving to work, and dropping off the kids on the way, many of our roads are chocka. A massive 1.3 million of us hopped in a car or truck to get to work on Census Day 2013, and many dropped off the kids at school. Because the streets are so busy, working-age adults are spending an average eight hours a week in the car – up 25 per cent. Between us all, that's 1.2 billion hours a year. This means the school run in a car is taking longer than ever, but walking and cycling speeds haven't been affected by the growing car traffic congestion.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff.co.nz

Rugby World Cup star Jerome Kaino leads a walking bus to Meadowbank Primary School, Auckland.

#3  Attackers lurk in waiting. This is of no consolation to the family of the 5-year-old girl grabbed from the streets of Palmerston North last week. but you can count on your fingers the number of children kidnapped by strangers. Kirsa Jensen. Teresa Cormack. Louisa Damodran ... "Situations like this are incredibly rare in New Zealand," Manawatu police commander Inspector Sarah Stewart said of the Palmerston North abduction. By comparison, there's a child killed in a car crash every month, on average. Which brings us to the final excuse.

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#4  The traffic is too dangerous. Yes, it's true, with more cars on the roads, children are more vulnerable. But there's a reason there are more cars on the roads before 9am and after 3pm – it's because we're all doing the school run.

I talked this weekend to Tracey Gibb, whose son Joshua was killed by a van in 2011 when he was cycling to school. It really wasn't the driver's fault: there was no pedestrian crossing so the 12-year-old tried to turn across the busy Napier road at rush-hour.

She has a message for families. "Walk with them at first," she says. "Make sure your children have the road skills.

"But don't be afraid to let them be healthy, to let them be kids. It's importaant for them to be independent, growing up. We don't want to wrap them up in cotton wool."

Coroner Christopher Davenport recommended a proper pedestrian crossing outside the school on Guppy Rd where Josh died. Instead, Napier City Council has gone further. After talking with Tracey, the council has set in place lower speed zones, with flashing signs, outside every school in the city.

We applaud this. If parents are to feel safe about their kids walking and riding to school, councils need to do their bit to set in place some basic traffic controls.

Today, we launch our Foot It campaign, encouraging families to get active on the school run. Leave the car in the garage, and walk, ride or scoot to school. We're writing to schools with advice and encouragement around setting up walking buses.

And we're asking the country's 68 local councils to create and enforce lower speed zones outside every school. Most, it seems, still don't have them.

I'll be walking my 6-year-old to school on Monday, for a change. Go on, join me.

We can make excuses. Or we can make a difference for our kids.

 - Sunday Star Times

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