Walking, riding a bicycle and scooting to school offers many benefits, both for children’s physical and mental well-being, as well as for the environment and the community more broadly. Aside from the fact that most kids want to walk, ride or scoot to school if they can, the top six reasons should be:
1. Active travel improves physical health
Active travel (walking, riding and scooting) is an excellent form of exercise that can help children and young adults improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce the risk of obesity. Numerous studies have shown the positive impact of physical activity on children's health. It is also great for the parents and carers who accompany children to get some extra exercise into their day.
Encouraging students to walk and cycle to school establishes healthy habits and a love of riding and walking early in life, which they are likely to carry into adulthood. This can lead to a lifetime of physical activity and better overall health outcomes.
Australian kids are hugely car dependent with only 14% of kids making their way to school independently. This has enormous costs to physical and psychological health. Australian teens rank 140 out of 146 of the least physically active nations around the world (The Lancet), with 25% of Australian kids obese, and 67% of Australian adults overweight or obese (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). The combined impact of physical activity, overweight and obesity ranks equally with tobacco control as the leading factors in disease prevention in Australia.
2. Active travel improves mental health and academic performance
Regular physical activity, such as walking, riding and scooting, has been linked to improved mood, reduced stress, and better mental health and overall sense of well-being in children and young adults.
Research shows that physical activity, including walking and cycling to school, enhances cognitive function, improves behaviour in class and academic performance. Walking and cycling to school helps children arrive more alert and ready to learn. A survey of Australian parents by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne found that most parents identified benefits of children travelling independently to school with 84% identifying that it helps build independence and problem solving skills
These same benefits apply to the parents and carers making the trips with their students and/or freed up to travel to work by active travel or public transport rather than continuing on in the car after drop off.
3. Active travel improves traffic safety by reducing congestion
Traffic congestion and problems parking around schools are a nightmare for all members of the school community including neighbours. Fewer cars around schools reduce the risk of accidents during drop-off and pick-up times, making the area around the school safer for everyone.
When children walk or cycle to school, there are fewer cars on the road during peak traffic times. This reduces the overall volume of traffic on our streets and means less congestion for everyone. Fewer cars around schools also reduces the risk of crashes during drop-off and pick-up times, making the area around the school safer for everyone especially children.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 14, contributing to 13% of deaths in this age group.
When more children walk or cycle to school, there are fewer parents driving around schools trying to find parking spots, leading to less delay for people who need to drive .
Encouraging children to cycle to school normalises getting around without a car. This cultural shift can have a long-term impact on reducing traffic congestion as people become more accustomed to walking, cycling and using public transport to get around.
4. Active travel can reduce your cost of living
Active travel is a low cost way to get around. Families can save money by reducing the number of vehicles they need to own, fuel used, tolls, parking fees, and vehicle maintenance. The average household spends $25,000 a year on transport, mostly on vehicle insurance, registration , petrol, financing and so on. A bicycle costs fraction of that. Find out more about how to ride down the cost of living on the Bicycle NSW website.
5. Active travel promotes kids’ independence and interaction with their local community
Walking, riding and scooting to school and other activities can strengthen the sense of community by encouraging children and families to interact with neighbours and local businesses on their way to school.
Where traffic and crossings are safe, walking and cycling to school without an adult fosters a sense of independence and responsibility in children and is closely linked to a higher sense of well-being.
Walking and cycling in groups or with friends can enhance children’s social skills and build friendships.
In early years when parents and carers accompany children or arrange walking and cycling buses, active travel supports new adult friendships and invaluable networks of support to help with looking after children.
Driving children to school takes time and can have an impact on parents and carers productivity. If traffic and crossings are safe for children to walk or cycle to school without an adult then the time otherwise spent picking up and dropping off can be used to do other things.
6. Active travel has enormous environmental benefits
According to the Department of Climate Change, over 10% of Australia's total emissions are from motor vehicles. Around the world, traffic emissions have been causally linked with childhood asthma and respiratory infections, reduced lung capacity, systemic inflammation, impaired cognitive development and behavioural problems.
For unborn children, traffic pollution is associated with stillbirth, low birth weight, premature birth and organ damage, as well as impaired respiratory and immune development, and adverse impacts on neurodevelopment including a reduced IQ. The Melbourne Climate Futures Centre found that in Australia, traffic pollution likely causes 11,105 premature deaths in adults and 66,000 childhood asthma cases each year.
Cycling reduces the number of cars on the road, leading to lower carbon emissions and improved air quality particularly around schools. This benefits both children and the community at large by reducing exposure to air pollution.
Four easy things you can do to get your family riding, walking or scooting to school:
6. Get your family insured with a Bicycle NSW Membership so that you can ride with peace of mind knowing that you are covered by comprehensive insurance, as well as gain access to lots of other member only benefits.
7. Contact your local council to see if they have an active travel plan or offer any support to get residents riding, walking or scooting.
Exciting news from Better Streets! We're thrilled to announce a significant achievement in our ongoing efforts to promote active and safe travel for school children in New South Wales. After a series of strategic meetings with ministers, parliamentarians, and participating in pivotal workshops, we have successfully influenced the NSW Government to allocate $10 million towards Active Travel to Schools. This funding is part of the broader $60 million Get Active NSW annual grants program.
A Step Towards Safer, Healthier School Commutes
The funding earmarked for Active Travel to Schools is a game-changer. It opens doors for essential infrastructure developments around school areas. Councils across NSW can now apply for this funding to construct and improve footpaths, shared paths, pedestrian crossings, and potentially develop 'school streets' – zones prioritizing the safety and mobility of young students.
The Role of Better Streets
Our journey to this point has been one of persistent advocacy and collaboration. The Better Streets team, including our member organisations, have been at the forefront to engage in meaningful dialogues with key government stakeholders. Our goal is clear: to ensure that the safety and well-being of our children are at the heart of urban planning and development, especially in school zones. We recommend that 75% of school children should be enabled to walk, ride, scoot or catch public transport to school.
The Future of Active Travel
This funding is not just about infrastructure; it's about fostering a culture of active travel among the younger generation. Encouraging walking, cycling, and other forms of active commuting to school has far-reaching benefits, from reducing traffic congestion to promoting physical health and environmental awareness among students.
Call to Action for Councils, Parents, and Teachers
The first round of funding applications is due by mid-December. We strongly encourage councils to take advantage of this opportunity. But the engagement doesn’t stop there. We also call on parents, teachers, and school communities to think creatively about how this funding can best be used to enhance access and safety around their schools.
While this is a significant milestone, it's just the beginning. We anticipate additional opportunities for funding in the future, aiming to expand the reach and impact of the Get Active NSW program. Better Streets remains committed to advocating for safer, healthier, and more sustainable communities.
Together, let's transform the way our children travel to school, making each step, pedal, or stride a part of a larger movement towards a better, more active future.