Improving safety for children travelling to and from school

In the briefing document for local authorities and their partners, Reducing unintentional injuries on the roads among children and young people under 25 years, Public Health England (PHE) has identified three actions that will have an important impact in reducing injuries and deaths. This article focuses on the first action – improving safety for children travelling to and from school.

This article covers:

The injury data

PHE’s analysis of police-reported road casualty data (STATS19) over the five year period 2008-2012 showed that the largest number of child injuries occur between 8am-9am and 3pm-7pm.

During these times there are around 16 deaths or serious injuries to children under 16 years every week.

Pedestrians are the most vulnerable group and the afternoon/early evening period is the most dangerous time as there are more cars on the road at this time.

Children are also particularly vulnerable during the period when they make the transition to secondary school as the casualty rates shoot up when they begin to travel to school independently.

The road environment

Nearly all (90%) of these injuries occur on roads with 30 mph speed limits. This is perhaps inevitable given that this is the limit of most roads in the UK.

Prevention opportunities

The priority is to ensure that children are protected so that they can cycle or walk to school safely.

The volume of motor traffic is a cause of injury and it discourages healthier forms of travel such as walking and cycling which have decreased over the past 40 years. This is one of the reasons that PHE supports initiatives to introduce 20 mph limits in priority areas as part of a safe system approach to road safety.

The PHE briefing argues that local authorities can build on existing work with schools to develop school travel plans that encourage active travel to and from school and address safety issues throughout the whole journey.

School travel plans are a way to encourage walking and cycling on journeys to and from school. Also, the charity Sustrans has provided a list of practical tips for parents on how to make the journey to school safer.

School travel plans can be integrated with other approaches such as school route audits, safety education, cycle training and road engineering measures to reduce vehicle speed and activities to enforce traffic law.

Unintentional injury measures are more effective when the various approaches are combined. The World Health Organization (WHO) has produced a manual for policy makers and practitioners that emphasises the value of the holistic approach.

More information

Updated December 2014