Streets for children

(Image: Sam Williams @play_future)

John Stewart (who is a key campaigner for the Stop Heathrow’s 3rd runway campaign) became RoadPeace Chair in late 1996. He has written a thought piece.  He’s a fantastic campaigner, and now an advisor – his input is immensely valuable to RoadPeace.  Many thanks John for writing this piece.

When I was a kid in the 1960s we were on the streets much more than most children in subsequent decades.  We played on the streets, cycled to the local shops, walked to school.  In 1971 80% of 7 and 8 year olds went to school by themselves, according to One False Move, a study published by the Policy Studies Institute in 1990.  That was down to 9% by the time the study was published.  It also discovered that, although the number of children owning a bike rose from 66% on 1971 to 90% in 1990, only a quarter of children were allowed to use them on the roads by 1990.  The main reason parents gave for keeping their children at home was fear of traffic.



Why is this relevant now?  Post-Covid children are using the streets in a way they haven’t for decades.  The low traffic neighbourhoods and the newly-installed cycle lanes have attracted them back on to the streets.  If children are to remain safe on the streets, it is critically important these measures not only remain in place after the pandemic but are strengthened where required with the likes of lower speed limits.



The evidence is clear that, whenever children are exposed to traffic, they are potentially in danger.  As far back as the early 1990s this was evident.  Measuring exposure to injury risk in school children aged 11-14, a study carried out by the British Medical Journal in 1994, found that children from less affluent families were more at risk of being killed or injured on the roads because they were more exposed to traffic: they were more likely to walk or cycle and less likely to get a lift by car.  Casualties amongst poorer boys were higher that amongst poorer girls largely because they were on the streets more frequently.


Global South

The same picture emerges from the Global South where in far too many countries the overall number of children killed and injured on the roads remains appalling high.  Globally, according to the World Health Organisation, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death in 10–19 year olds, with low and middle-income countries accounting for 93% of child road traffic deaths.  Exposure to traffic is not the only factor behind these figures but it is a key one.


Way Forward

Children enjoy being on the streets, playing or chatting with their friends, cycling to the local park.  We have the chance to allow them to do it again if we can enhance the post-Covid measures to take tame the traffic.  And not just on ‘residential’ roads but on main roads as well.  Those are the ‘residential’ roads for a disproportionate number of poorer children for whom exposure to traffic is an inevitable way of life.  They must not lose out.


John has also written a report entitled The Great Traffic Disruptor for the UK Noise Association which explores the impact of the pandemic on equity, the environment and the economy: