The new school year is the perfect opportunity to change travel habits. Chris Bennett, Head of Behaviour Change at Sustrans, the UK walking and cycling charity, shares his top 10 reasons to shake up your school run.
- Cycling, scooting or walking the school run is an easy way of building physical activity into the whole family’s daily routine.
According to government guidelines, children and young people aged 5 to 18 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, while adults should get a minimum of 150 minutes a week. At 1.6 miles, the average primary school journey is a distance that can be cycled, scooted or walked as an easy way of building more activity into our busy lives .
- Not only is it great for your physical health, it can also boost mental health and wellbeing .
Physical activity can increase mental alertness, energy, positive mood and self-esteem, as well as reducing stress and anxiety, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
- It’s a great way to start the day – not just for kids but for parents too.
Teachers find that pupils who walk, cycle or scoot arrive at school more relaxed, alert and ready to start the day than those who travel by car . Parents can benefit in the same way and burn some precious calories along the way – a 20-minute bike ride can use the same amount of calories as a cappuccino, a bar of chocolate or a 175ml glass of wine.
- More people cycling, scooting or walking ultimately means there are less cars on the road, helping ease congestion outside the school gates.
The proportion of children walking and cycling to school has been declining in England since 1995, with the number being driven to primary school increasing each year – as many as one in four cars on the road during the morning peak are on the school run (4). Leaving the car at home means you’ll take the hassle out of parking too.
- Less cars means less pollution, making the air we breathe cleaner for everyone.
Up to 40,000 early deaths are attributable to air pollution each year in the UK – only smoking contributes to more early deaths . Road transport is responsible for 80% of the pollution where legal limits are being broken  and children are particularly affected . What’s more, those who travel by car can experience five times higher pollution levels than those who cycle and three and a half times more than those walking the same route . Not only is air pollution harmful to humans, it also affects animal and plant life.
- Cycling, scooting or walking to school increases children’s awareness of road safety as well as boosting independence.
Instilling a love of cycling, scooting or walking in children from a young age has long-lasting benefits – as well as developing road awareness to encourage independent travel as a teenager, it can also create good habits for an active adult life.
- Travelling under your own steam provides the perfect opportunity to connect with the world around you.
Cycling, scooting and walking brings you closer to nature and the changes in the seasons. Whether it’s spotting wildlife or noticing the leaves changing colour on the trees, two wheels are better than four when it comes to connecting with nature and get to know your local area.
- You’ll save money
Cycling, scooting or walking the school run will save you and your family a small fortune. Not only will you be forking out less on petrol, you might also save money on gym fees, leaving you with more cash in your pocket.
- It benefits us all
From health to road safety, retail and tourism, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the economic benefits of cycling and walking. In England alone 10 billion annual journeys are undertaken every year by bike and on foot, with an estimated combined economic value of £14 billion .
- And if all that’s not enough, just think of all the fresh air, freedom and fun you’ll have along the way.
Taking time out of your day to cycle, scoot or walk together is a great chance to catch up on your child’s day and spend quality time with each other while enjoying the fresh air and freedom of travelling under your own steam.
How to help your child cycle or scoot to school – Sustrans’ top tips for parents
Mornings are a busy time for parents and it can be overwhelming to get your child ready for cycling or scooting on top of other things you need to do before leaving home. With a little preparation cycling or scooting can be the best way to get to school. Here are our top tips to help your child become a bicycle or scooter commuter.
- Plan your journey in advance. Choose a smooth, flat route and avoid steep hills and busy roads where possible. When starting out it’s a good idea to take your child to the park or another traffic-free area to practise their cycling or scooting. Sustrans is the pioneer and guardian of the National Cycle Network – with thousands of miles of traffic-free routes across the UK, the Network is the ideal place to build confidence. For more information and inspiration visit www.sustrans.org.uk.
- Make sure your child’s bike fits and all your bikes are roadworthy.
- If you’re using a scooter, ensure any bolts are tightened before setting off and check the wheels and handlebars are attached securely. Make sure any folding parts are fully locked in the riding position.
- Children should wear sensible shoes such as trainers. Flip-flops and sandals aren’t suitable. Avoid wearing baggy clothing which may get caught up in the bike or scooter.
- Don’t hang anything on the handlebars as it could upset the balance of the bike or scooter.
- If you’re on the road with children take up a position behind them. If there are two adults in your group it’s a good idea to have one at the back and one in front of the children.
- Set a good example: follow the Highway Codeand teach children road safety and awareness.
- When your child is scooting on the pavement make sure you walk nearest the road. Encourage children to go slowly or to walk where necessary when passing other people on the pavement.
- Your child should get off their bike or scooter when crossing roads.
- Helmets are recommended for young children, though ultimately this is a question of individual choice and parents need to make that choice for their children.
For more information, advice and support visit www.sustrans.org.uk/what-you-can-do