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Schools and Cars Do Not Mix

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All the talk among parents in the nursery playground right now is about applying for a reception place. In an area with several small and very oversubscribed schools that are good, and a couple of equally small and under subscribed schools on special measures, you can only imagine the level of fear and panic rising in some mum's and dads. Among the conversations I've heard, there have been many considerations beyond the educational prowess of the schools in questions - mums who want to drop children off on their way to work, the need to be close to grandparents who provide wrap-around care, whether the institution provides hot school dinners.

But not once have I heard a parent mention how safe it is to walk to school.

As International Road Safety Week draws to a close, it seems unthinkable to me that this wouldn't be a big issue. Recent statistics released by Sustrans show that 54% of parents felt their children would be more physically active if there were a 20mph speed limit in place, and 49% of parents surveyed by Netmums on behalf of Sustrans said they felt road safety was the main barrier to allowing children to walk or cycle to school. So why aren't we talking about this in the playground?

'I guess most parents just think it's safer to drive,' said my friend, who regularly drops her children off in the car. Despite the fact the school serves a small community, is in a 20mph and home zone, and has covered bike racks and sheds for scooters, around 50% of the pupils still get dropped off in the car. There is no parking at the school, and we regularly get reminder letters from the head teacher about parking on the zig zag lines - the parents with the 'can't beat 'em, join 'em attitude' are actually eroding the safety of those who choose to be pedestrians.

There is another factor at play here as well, and that is the perception of what is healthy. The majority of parents surveyed by Netmums for Sustrans felt their child was within the normal healthy weight limits - yet 33% of UK children are obese. This means nearly a third of parents must view being overweight as normal or acceptable, and they may well be the same parents who think using the car for a short, local journey is normal or acceptable as well.

We live over a mile from my son's primary school, having moved recently, and despite the fact it is a fantastic school and all his friends are going there, we won't be applying for a place next year. The local school, just a five minute walk away, suits our lifestyle much better. A school with a dedicated Sustrans Bike Officer, with plenty of children who walk or cycle, I can imagine my boys heading off on their own at a fairly young age - promoting not just healthy, outdoor lifestyles but also that all important sense of independence, and a grasp of road safety.

Parents who regularly drive to school are not ensuring the safety of their children - they're actually putting their lives and the lives of others at risk. The sooner we accept this, ditch the car keys and start treading the tarmac, the better life will be for everyone.

Sustrans are calling for 20mph speed limits in residential areas - check out their campaign here