Stop prioritising the car to improve children's health

Edinburgh Napier's Dr Adrian Davis part of group of experts calling UK governments to prioritise active travel over car travel

Date posted

10 April 2018

09:31

Last updated

10 April 2018

The UK governments need to stop prioritising the car if they are serious about improving children’s physical and mental health, experts have warned. 

In a letter to all four UK transport ministers, a group of leading health and transport academics from Edinburgh Napier and the University of Edinburgh has called for focus to be placed on active travel opportunities for schoolchildren rather than car travel. 

Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the group has criticised the dominance of the ‘windscreen perspective’, believing it has resulted in politicians and highway engineers operating from a driver’s point of view rather than looking at the bigger picture and the benefits of active travel to youngsters. 

Since the 1980s, the average length of a school journey for 11-16 year-olds has nearly doubled to just under four miles. This, coupled with investment in road building far exceeding that for active travel, has resulted in a steady demise in the number of children walking or cycling to school. 

They also argue that because of the increase in cars transporting children to school and for other journeys, the age at which parents will allow their children to go to school by themselves has been steadily creeping up amid road safety fears. 

The academic group is calling for change to combat this, with the introduction of safe routes to school and across local communities, like those pioneered by Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark, top of the list. 

They are also calling for the further rollout of the successful Sustainable Travel Towns programme – a £15million scheme that has significantly reduced car use in three towns across the UK. The scheme has been found to boost economic growth, cut carbon emissions and promote quality of life in the areas it has been adopted. 

Closer collaboration within transport and public health sectors, national and local funding and road-space relocation to walking and cycling are also on the group’s list of recommendations. 

Dr Adrian Davis of Edinburgh Napier’s Transport Research Institute said: “The windscreen perspective of cars first and pedestrians and cyclists last has to end if today’s and future generations are to lead healthier and more physically active lives, which can only happen with safer streets to reduce road danger. This will bring many other benefits including cleaner air, less congestion, and better towns and cities. We must give back to children the independent mobility that adults enjoyed by physically making safer streets. This will benefit all. But it will only happen if politicians choose to prioritise active travel.”

The full paper, first published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine today (10 April), can be viewed here.

Transport Research Institute

The Institute comprises some of Scotland’s leading applied transportation research and knowledge transfer centres. We cover a range of disciplines, including freight, transport policy, SMART mobility, and healthy transport.