More than a third of all U.S. kids between 9 and 15 years of age live within a mile of school, yet fewer than half of them regularly get there by walking or riding a bicycle, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The phenomenon has important public health implications in a time when many schools have acted to shorten or eliminate recesses and physical education classes. According to the study, in 1969, 90% of kids who lived within a mile of school regularly walked or rode a bike to get there. In 2004, only 48% walked or rode a bike once or more per week. Students in the southern U.S., students living in mostly rural areas, and students of parents with advanced degrees were found to be most likely to catch a ride. Though the researchers didn’t ask why kids were increasingly commuting by automobile, they cite anecdotal evidence to suggest that changing parental attitudes about exercise and safety concerns are important factors. Walking or bicycling to school can be healthy. It can be safer if you and your children follow these recommendations from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC):
- “Instruct your child to always take a friend when walking or riding his or her bike to and from school. It’s safer and more fun to be with your friends. Walk and ride in well-lit areas, and never take shortcuts. When walking and biking stay aware of your surroundings and observe all traffic rules in place to more safely share the roads and sidewalks with others.
- Even though there is safety in numbers, it is still not safe for young children to walk to and from school especially if they must take isolated routes before or during daylight. Always provide supervision for your young children to help ensure their safe arrival to and from school.
- Your child should stay with a group while waiting at the bus stop. If anyone bothers your child while going to or from school, you should teach him or her to get away from that person, and tell you or another trusted adult. If an adult approaches your child for help or directions, remember grownups needing help should not ask children for help; they should ask other adults.
- You should visit the bus stop with your children and learn the bus number. This will avoid confusion for your children about knowing which bus to ride.
- Instruct your children if anyone they don’t know or a person who confuses, scares, or makes them feel uncomfortable offers a ride, say NO. Children should never hitchhike. Also children should never accept a ride from anyone unless you have told them it is OK to do so in each instance.
- Tell your children that if anyone follows them on foot to get away from him or her as quickly as possible. If anyone follows them in a vehicle they should turn around, go in the other direction, and try to quickly get to a spot where a trusted adult may help them. Advise them to be sure to tell you or another trusted adult what happened.
- Teach your children if anyone tries to take them somewhere, they should quickly get away and yell, ‘This person is trying to take me away’ or ‘This person is not my father / mother / guardian.’ If anyone tries to grab them, teach them to make a scene and every effort to get away by kicking, screaming, and resisting.
- Children should be taught to never leave school with anyone they don’t know. They should always check first with you or another trusted adult. If anyone tells them there is an emergency and they want your child to go with them, your children should always check first before doing anything. Make sure your children understand to tell a trusted adult if they notice anyone they don’t know hanging around the school.
- Walk the route to and from school with your children pointing out landmarks and safe places to go if they’re being followed or need help. Make a map with your children showing acceptable routes to school, using main roads, and avoiding shortcuts and isolated areas. The map will be a good guide if your children ever need help finding their way.
- Remember to practice these safety rules with your children to make certain they really know and understand them. Make the walk to and from school a ‘teachable moment’ and chance to put their skills to the test.”
Previously on the D.C. Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:
- School bus safety tips for kids and drivers
- School safety tips for parents
- Safety guidelines for returning to school
- Bicycle safety guidelines
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