With school holidays starting this week, a new AA Streetwatch study reveals that 94 percent of AA members think that children should walk more but only 56 percent believe their neighbourhood is safe enough to do so. More than 22,000 AA Streetwatch volunteers were surveyed.
Encouraging kids to cycle more was supported by 76 percent of the Streetwatchers. But only 31 percent felt their local streets offered a secure enough environment.
Although the responses are broadly similar among men and women, across the age ranges and from region to region, the view from different social backgrounds is markedly different. Between 92 percent and 95 percent of AA Streetwatchers across all socio-economic groups agree that children should be encouraged to walk more. However, while up to 59 percent of those in better-off neighbourhoods consider their local roads safe enough for their children to play and explore on foot, confidence in less well-off neighbourhoods drops as low as 45%.
For example, Luton came out as the least safe place for children to walk locally, whilst the more affluent St Albans, 12 miles down the road, was in the top five safest areas.
Survey respondents from lower socio-economic groups were slightly less keen for children to take to their bikes, but the 71 percent of them who favoured encouraging kids on to bikes still compared well with 78 percent in the top ‘professional, higher managerial’ band.
Even so, in terms of the perceived safety of young cyclists on local roads, the gap between the richer (35 percent) and poorer neighbourhoods (27 percent) wasn’t as big as for children being allowed to roam around as pedestrians.
Edmund King, AA president, said:
“The findings from our AA Streetwatch volunteers backs up previous research that shows children in inner-city areas are at much greater risk. They make more journeys on foot and spend more time playing in the street because there are fewer playing areas. There are also more cars parked in the street, reducing visibility and making crossing the road more hazardous. They also tend to live on busier roads rather than in the leafy suburbs.
“It is a shame when safety fears constrain freedoms and the social and physical development of young people. Many communities have organised themselves to provide activities and supervision to reduce the chances of a mishap.
“The AA has campaigned for road safety and Bikeability to be included in the national curriculum for all primary school children. Beyond that parents can help by establishing some boundaries and rules at the start of the school holidays. And, with many children having their own mobile phone, the chance to check first with mum or dad before doing something or going somewhere out of the norm is a good discipline.
“We also believe that targeted 20mph limits and junction and cycle infrastructure improvements will help encourage parents to let their youngsters venture out on two wheels.”
In the 1930s the AA called for a segregated cycle network that included Dutch-style cycle underpasses. The 1930s equivalent to Edmund King said: “The [cyclist] would pass under the carriage-way, come up on to the bank and join the other cycle track which goes continuously along the arterial road…You can get complete segregation of …traffic…"