The self-reported National Cycling Participation Survey indicates a worrying decline in children cycling (to school) in the last two years. There is concern that a re-worded questions makes it difficult to compare results over the two-year span, but the low incidence in kids cycling in absolute term is as worrying as the (perhaps inaccurate) decline reported.
The report, of course, emphasises all the positives that can be read into the results, for instance talking about the high cycling participation rates amongst 2 to 9 year olds who had ridden in the previous week (44.4% (down 4.7% from 2011)). But how many of these rode to school??? Personal experience indicates that school principals are reluctant to encourage cycling.
VicRoads recommends that children should be at least ten years old before they independently walk or cycle to school, as “experts” indicate that Australian kids are not cognitive ready before that time (in other countries kids become cognitively able much earlier – in Switzerland children as young as four are encouraged to walk to school independently).
Remember that the Australian Cycling Strategy called for a doubling of cycling between 2011 and 2016. 40% into the time frame and it looks like we are failing to achieve that goal. Instead we contribute 17% to morning rush hour by driving kids to school.
Jan Garrard points out that primary school students consistently say that they would rather ride or walk to school. They say it’s fun, they like travelling with their friends, and it makes them fit and healthy.
I think parents are the problem. Some are too lazy and too preoccupied to grasp the concept of sharing time with their kids on their way to school. We are failing to teach the kids traffic skills at an early age, to give them independence and the opportunity to free-range and adventure. Our perception of risk is influenced by what people around us are doing. If most people allow their children to travel to school independently, then it isn’t perceived as risky behaviour.