Taking the kids to school by car is dangerous

Dropping of time at De Notenkraker school.
By Frederiek Weeda

Dutch parents increasingly take their children to school by car. This makes the roads around schools less safe – and when it’s time for them to go it alone, these kids have difficulty in coping with traffic.

Working mums Rebecca Verwey and Debbie Molier are standing on the square that separates three primary schools in a large new housing development Ypenburg in The Hague. Parents that drive their kids to schools? They do not have a good word to say about them. “They drive up too fast, open car doors without looking and in the mornings they park on the pavement to be as close to the school entrance as possible,” Verwey says.

In the northern province of Groningen, councillors have had enough and are planning to ban parents from taking their children to school by car. And primary schools in the southern town of Gorinchem have already imposed a one-day ban “to make parents think”.

A quarter of all schoolchildren are now taken to and from school by car, according to research by mobility advisors Soab. And the number is growing.

Other parents

Although the mums on the Ypenburg square themselves drive their children to school, their gripe is with other parents. “At least I park where it’s allowed and I walk the last bit,” says Verwey who has her own business and helps during the school lunch break. “I go back and forth all the time and I need a car to do it,” she explains.

Debbie Molier works outside Ypenburg and drops her children off at school on the way to work: “But I leave on time so that I have time to park properly,” she says.

The idea of a ban on driving kids to school does not go down well in Ypenburg. “My life is hectic enough as it is with work, shopping and all the other fetching and carrying that I have to do,” says Wilma Plomp.

Kiss-and-go

To make life easier for busy parents, many councils have installed designated “kiss-and-go areas”. This is a stop off point where parents can stop the car, open the door, give their offspring a farewell kiss and drive away. It makes dropping off the kids at school much safer, say schools.

But parents do not just take their children to school by car because it is on the way to their work. “That only accounts for a third of parents,” says city planner Ineke Spapé who works for Soab. And she says another one third think that it is unsafe for kids to walk or cycle to school because of the traffics. But, says Spapé, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Now that more and more parents take the car, the situation around schools is itself unsafe. Because lots of cars are coming and going, neither kids nor drivers have a clear overview of the roads and pavements.”

No safe routes

Meanwhile, two-thirds of accidents involving children happen on the way to the playground rather than on the way to school. “As a mother, I am surprised that we have passage-ways for wild animals to cross the road… but no safe routes for children crossing the road,” says Spapé.

Spapé has come up with a child-friendly system to guide children safely between various destinations. The idea is to place brightly coloured paving stones, signs and zebra crossings to mark out safe routes between schools, playgrounds and sports facilities. Several cities, including Delft, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, are already using the system.

Another worrying side effect of the school run is that by the time children go to secondary school they are still inexperienced cyclists. “Parents hand them their new school bags and it’s off you go. But this is when most accidents happen,” says Spapé.

Figures from the traffic safety research foundation show that one of the groups of cyclists most likely to end up in hospital are youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17 (370 in 2005).

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