Safely to School

I salvaged a road safety education book from a local government clear-out for my then two-year-old. It’s called ‘Look out on the road’ by Paul Humphrey and Alex Ramsay, copyright 1994. It teaches about looking and listening for traffic, waiting for the green man at a crossing, wearing a helmet when cycling and more. On the last page, it asks the child to point to pictures of who is being ‘silly’ and who ‘sensible’ in terms of road safety. My daughter loves that page.

As the new school year starts, it is a shame that books like these are being discarded without replacements. Road safety education budgets were some of the first cut in 2010.

‘Look out on the Road’ tells the story of a family driving to the shops and walking there and then in the countryside. If I were to write a new version, I think I’d describe the journey to school:

Today is the first day of school. Let’s walk. If we hold a grown-up’s hand, we will get there safely.

Roads are for traffic. Pavements are for people to walk on. There is no pavement on our private road. We must walk on the right side of the road to be sure we can see and be seen by people in cars.

Now we are on the main road. There are pavements and lots of people. The road is busy with cars, buses and trucks. The edge of the pavement is the kerb. We must not stand too close to the kerb until we are ready to cross the road. There is no button to press to call for the green man to stop the traffic. We look and listen for a gap, but there are too many vehicles. A car stops and waves, finally allowing us to cross halfway to stand in the hatched area. There is less traffic going this direction, so we soon make it to the other side.

As we come closer to school, we see some other schoolchildren riding bicycles on the pavement. It is dangerous to ride on the road with so much traffic travelling at 30mph and no cycle lanes. Also, many cars turn left to take a shortcut. The side street is wide, so cars turn quickly. We all stop, look and listen for traffic before we cross this street.

We pass the 20mph sign that a previous class of schoolchildren designed. There are many cars parked along the road as we near school. A mother opens her car door, almost hitting a child who is cycling. The child in the car unbuckles his seatbelt and jumps out of his booster seat. He walks between his mother’s car and another parked car, but is pulled back. It is dangerous to cross between parked cars.

We all walk to the pedestrian crossing opposite the school gates. We press the button, but the lollipop lady is already stopping traffic and waving us across. Safely to school at last!

How many examples of pedestrian- and child- unfriendly design can you spot in this typical journey to school? Too often, transport planners provide lollipop ladies where there are already controlled crossings and 20mph zones that only make the environment safer at the school gates.

Instead, the entire route to school and whole neighbourhoods should be designed to be safe for children to walk and cycle. More lollipop men and women could be hired to provide assistance throughout a catchment area, but, like in the Netherlands, only at the start of each term to remind motorists that schoolchildren will be crossing their paths. Children would walk and cycle without a grown-up’s helping hand.

Road safety education books are needed, but perhaps we should wait to reintroduce them until we can reassure children that it is easy to be sensible, not silly, and still arrive safely at school.    

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