Give your children a great start to life

By Bicycle Queensland President Bill Loveday

A common headache for many parents at the start of the year is arranging transport to and from school for their children. The answer is simple: make them walk, ride bikes or at least catch public transport. It is not only a matter of convenience. If you drive them you could be killing them, in the short term and the long term.

Roads around most schools at the beginning and end of the school day are choked with cars. Daily, you can witness drivers parking Illegally, stopping, turning, getting frustrated and angry; In short, being just plain dangerous to themselves and other road users.

More importantly they are putting at risk their charges. In attempting to “safely” escort them to school, well-intentioned parents create the very situations that increase the risk of children being involved in traffic incidents.

Danger myths

There is a common misconception that the roads and footpaths of our suburbs are dangerous places for children to walk or ride their bikes. The urban myth of “stranger danger” suggests that children are at risk from hundreds of bogeymen. In fact, statistics show that crimes against children are significantly less than ever before in recorded history.

Sadly, this paranoia, by keeping children off the streets and out of public spaces, reduces the protective and security value of having more people out and about.

For bicycle riders, things are improving due to reduced suburban speed limits and making school zones a blanket 40km/h. Trials of 30km/h school zones are just around the corner, and this will contribute even more to the safety of children both cycling and walking.

A major residual threat to children walking and cycling to school is parents who insist on driving their children to and from school.

Australia could make the roads even safer for cyclists and pedestrians. New European Union Policies dictate that in any cycle and motor vehicle accident, the motor vehicle automatically is considered at fault. It is then up to the motorist to prove that he or she did not cause the accident. Revolutionary as this may be, it is about time in Australia that motorists accepted more responsibility for the road toll.

Big cars, big egos

The automotive industry shares considerable blame here as well, for producing petrol-guzzling monsters with great engine capacities to terrorise our streets, congest our roads and pollute our cities. Car advertising campaigns show scant regard for safety or the environment by promoting big cars, greater speed and even bigger egos.

All this has longer-term implications. Consider the well-documented epidemic levels of obesity in Australian children. There is every sign that the trend for overweight and unhealthy children will continue to climb. It seems organised sporting activities and physical education for Australian school children are missing their mark – maybe because they offer only an hour or so a week of physical respite against an overwhelmingly sedentary lifestyle. Poor habits and patterns formed in childhood lay the groundwork for unhealthy adult behaviour.

A healthy attitude

Medical opinion suggests that, along with a good diet, at least 30 minutes’ exercise each day is sufficient to combat Western lifestyle diseases. Incidental exercise, or that exercise built into your daily life, easily can meet your daily quota. Walking and cycling to and from school offers just such a significant exercise opportunity for school children.

The Norwegian Government thinks cycling is so good for the country it is proposing a system of tax breaks for citizens who ride to work. Some companies already give financial incentives to staff who ride bicycles. Contrast that with indulgent corporate Australia, where the tax system rewards people for driving motor vehicles. Little wonder our children are getting obese, given the poor role models we provide for them.

The great thing is, cycling and walking are cheap, save on petrol, don’t create pollution, and the more people who do it, the safer the streets become.

How parents can help

Get your child’s bike from a bicycle shop so they can be fitted properly, or get their current bike properly serviced. All the bike needs to be roadworthy is a bell and brakes. Take the time to teach your children the basic road rules (obey the lights, ride no more than two abreast, give way to pedestrians on the footpath). Perhaps then you could do a trial ride with them to school, to work out the best route. Otherwise get together with other parents and form a cycling or walking “bus”.

All of this is so easy, and it is the responsibility of parents and schools to take up the baton and run with it. You are doing your kids the greatest favour you can by not driving them to school. You could even be saving their lives.

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