The Federal Highway Administration reports that about half of students walked or biked to school in 1969. In 2001, nearly 9 out of 10 students were driven to school by a parent or a bus driver. The journey to school has changed dramatically.
Riding the Bus vs Not Riding the Bus
All of the many studies of the safety of school transportation have been conducted over the past several decades by the most respected safety organizations in the United States come to the same indisputable conclusion - school buses provide the safest transportation on the nation’s highways.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated: "American students are nearly 8 times safer riding in a school bus than with their own parents and guardians in cars. The fatality rate for school buses is only 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to 1.5 fatalities per 100 million VMT for cars."
In June 2002, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released a report that noted: "Each year approximately 800 school-aged children are killed in motor vehicle crashes during normal school travel hours. 98% of these school-aged deaths occur in vehicles other than school buses - automobiles, motorcycles… or to pedestrians or bicyclists."
The Frederick County Health Department has also conducted observational surveys in school zones.
In 2002, their surveys showed that about half of the elementary school children being transported in private motor vehicles were either improperly restrained or not restrained at all in an approved child safety seat, booster seat or vehicle seat belt!
Another dangerous behavior seen all too frequently was children 12 or younger riding in the front seat.
Safe Kids Worldwide conducts national research about child pedestrian safety, stop sign violations in school zones, etc. What their research discovers is often shocking; for example:
45% of parents did not come to a complete stop at a school zone stop sign
37% of others roll through school zone stop signs, and nearly a tenth of parents
7% did not even slow down before stop signs
About 66% also speed through school zones during the 30-minute drop-off period during arrival and dismissal times.
Parents need to be aware that they are often offenders and must change their driving behavior to increase school zone safety for children.
There is a huge increase (160% in the past 15 years, CDC) in the number of children being diagnosed with asthma. Exposure to fumes while idling in line for the morning drop-off at school has partially caused this asthma spike. There is also the overall negative effect on our environment and air quality as this line of idling traffic occurs repeatedly each day in school after school.
Diabetes & Obesity
Another major health issue today is the rampant increase in childhood diabetes, which is linked to inactivity and obesity in children at greater rates than ever before in history (obesity rate in children has tripled in past 2 decades, CDC).
Experts have now said that our children will be the first generation in a century to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents!
Some parents are making the choice to walk to school with their child / children instead of driving a short distance. Other parents drive partway and finish the trip on foot. This provides physical activity for everyone while it reduces vehicle congestion and pollution in the school zone.
When parents choose walking as the way to get to school, pedestrian safety issues are important. Children need to be taught how to walk safely. They need supervision until at least age 10 when most children have developed sufficiently both physically and mentally to make proper and safe pedestrian decisions.