Exploring the Safety of Walking to School

Safety of walking to school for children related to features of the environment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Walking or riding a bicycle to school is a great way for children to get extra physical activity — but only if it's safe for them to do so.

A recent study looked into whether the risk of getting hit by a car had more to do with the number of children walking or the features of the road environment.

The results revealed that the environment itself had more to do with the risk of getting hit by cars than the density of children walking.

These findings mean that more school crossing guards, speed bumps, traffic lights and other such features increase the safety of walking to school for children.

"Teach your children road and crossing safety."

This study, led by Linda Rothman, MHSC, of the Child Health Evaluative Sciences at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, looked at the safety of walking to school when the environment was taken into account.

Even though walking or bicycling to school would be an opportunity for kids to get more exercise, it might also increase the risk of getting hit by a car.

Therefore, researchers investigated the rates of children aged 4 to 12 getting hit by cars from 2002 to 2011 in Toronto, Canada.

Then, they compared these incidents to the locations where they occurred and what that location's environment was like.

The researchers found a total of 481 incidents, which translated to an average of 7.4 incidents per 10,000 children each year.

However, when the researchers took into account a variety of factors about the location, they found that the number of children walking and the number of children hit by cars was not related.

Those factors included population density (how many people lived in the area) and aspects of the roadway design.

Roadway design aspects that the researchers considered including the following:

  • number of multi-family dwellings per area
  • traffic lights
  • traffic calming factors (such as speed bumps or stop signs)
  • number of one-way streets per area
  • having school crossing guards
  • socioeconomic status of the school populations

The researchers therefore concluded that the safety of walking to school for children has more to do with how the environment is built than with the number of children walking to school.

"Road design features were related to higher collision rates and warrant further examination for their safety effects for children," they wrote.

"Future policy designed to increase children’s active transportation should be developed from evidence that more clearly addresses child pedestrian safety," they added.

This study was published April 7 in the journal Pediatrics.

The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Ontario Neurotrauma Association Summer Internship Program. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 7, 2014
Last Updated:
April 7, 2014