/ Motoring

Stop driving your kids to school

City traffic jam

The morning rush hour is jammed by parents driving their kids to school, despite most of them living only 20 minutes away from the school gates. Isn’t it about time this tradition was left in the past?

My husband made up a song for our daughter recently that I hummed to myself on my morning cycle commute yesterday.

“Nine smelly cars driving on the road, nine smelly cars driving on the road; if one smelly car would only stay at home, there’d be eight smelly cars driving on the road…”

The traffic yesterday was atrocious. The start of the school term combined with a Tube strike made it a smog-filled, road-raging and congested journey.

From time to time when the exhaust fumes cleared, what dawned on me most was the fact that so many of the cars were made up of parents and school children.

The 2009 National Travel Survey states that two in five primary school pupils are driven to school and that these trips have actually increased as a proportion of all car trips in the morning rush hour in the last ten years.

Across the UK, car trips in the morning rush now represent 14% of all journeys, and if you just look at those in our cities, they account for 21%. Yet, despite all this, according to the charity Living Streets, who run Walk to School week in schools, the majority of primary school pupils live within a 20 minute walk of their school.

Claims and counter claims about children being starved of exercise or at risk from ‘stranger danger’ are rife, and parents at school gates shout that “there’s no alternatives to driving!”

But is this true? Where are the good and long-lasting examples that will change this growing phenomenon? Can we only hope for more cars as our population grows? I’d like to think not.


I would love to see more children walking to school, but it is not always practical when both parents work and the children are too young to walk or be left alone before school opens. The earliest we can leave our children at their (infant) school is 8.45am. If we walked the children to school, we wouldn’t get back home until after 9am and then wouldn’t get to work until 9.30am (i.e. late). Because we want our children to walk, one of us often does walk the children in. The problem is that the other then has to drive to school anyway to pick up the ‘walking’ parent so we can then get to work on time. So the car still has to go to school anyway. I can’t see a way around this until the children are old enough to walk alone. As the youngest is not yet 4, this will be a while.


Everyone has an excuse NOT to agree with a good idea.
There is always an alternative, IF you want to see it.


Both my eldest walk to High School, and yes, for about 20 minutes a day the roads in our little village are a bit congested with parents dropping their children off. Some do live less than 20 minutes away but we’re in a rural area with no pavements and the street lights are far and few between for the end of the day in winter. I drive my youngest to school with another child 2 mornings a week and her mother does the other 3. Then we both go on to work. I’m fed up of being judged! I dont judge any parent who drives, cycles, walks their child to school. I have no idea of the constraints of their day, time, family circumstances or finances. The assumption is that those of us who drive our kids are uneducated, lazy, not environmentally friendly and have obese unhealthy children who we drive around in “smelly cars”. We are a nice easy target for those that think they have a monopoly on how life should be lived by all. We all need reminding sometimes about good practice in all areas of our lives, none of us are immune to developing bad habits, and that includes all drivers. So why not give us the information, let us decide and stop making massive assumptions about our motives?

Richard Emery says:
17 September 2010

The increase in parents taking children to school by car is a result of two government policies. A policy that says that it is better for both parents to undertake paid employment than for one parent to invest their time in looking after the children means that many parents take their children to school on their way to work. Walking to school and then walking home before getting in the car to go to work is simply not practical. Changes in school admissions policies mean that an incearing number of children live further from their school so walking is not a practical option. If the government encouraged one parent to be a “full-time parent” and allowed all children under 11 to go to their nearest primary school the need to drive would drop dramatically.

Kiersten says:
21 September 2010

I agree with Richard. I work “part time” – that is to say, I work 34 hours a week. My children are 3 and 6, and the 6 year old does walk to and from school because she goes to breakfast club and after school club. However, if for any reason, I am unable to pay the extortionate prices for the childcare which walks my daughter to and from school, I would have no choice due to the absolutely ridiculous level of juggling which working parenthood entails. The whole system is completely archaic and outdated…. I am currently trying to work out how exactly I am supposed to get my three year old to and from his state funded two and a half hours of nursery, to the private nursery every day (there’s not as many childminders as you would expect for a capital city)… I wonder whether these policy makers have any experience of juggling these practicalities!

Jim Grey says:
17 September 2010

I drove my son to secondary school on the way to work for five years. It meant a very short detour for me and a very early start for him (40 mins early), but I would have done it anyway because children on school buses are not supervised. The few times he did travel on the school bus were not pleasant experiences. Some children just cannot sit on a bus without doing something to make someone else’s life a misery.

On one occassion, when the school closed during the day because of heavy snow, the bus terminated its journey a mile short of home because the driver judged it too dangerous to continue. This might be reasonable, but twenty or so children had to continue unaccompanied on foot.


You cannot on the one hand offer parents a choice of school and on the other blame people for choosing one that is not the closest. Besides in rural East Yorkshire you have to be very lucky indeed to actually live within walking distance of a school.


I would agree, it is not always practical to have children walk to school and while I have no objection to parents driving their children to school, what I do object to is the selfish attitude many of them have in finding it necessary to abandon ( I can’t say park) their cars as near as possible to the school gates in order to drop their children off!
The reason for doing this is a wish to see the child/children safely into the school gates and they seem to believe that as “they” only take a few minutes “they” are not creating a problem. “They” seem to forget “they” are one of many doing and thinking the same thing in the same place at the same time!!.
The fact that their actions cause danger to their offspring, and of others, by creating turmoil and blockages both on the paths and on the road near the school entrance seems to elude them! Parents pulling into non existent parking spaces, car doors opening and closing with gay abandon, children milling about; with other road users and pedestrians attempting to get to work etc. Recipe for disaster!!
The drivers don’t seem prepared to use a nearby Car Park or, if none is available, at least try to park in a safe manner and then walk a few hundred yards to the school gate.
Perhaps this is too much effort, takes too much time, or you might get wet?
The day will come when, for the sake of an adult parking safely and walking the child to the school gate, a child will be killed!
Again, when it is time to pick the children up, some “responsible adults” can be seen parking their cars at least threequarters of an hour beforehand so they can get the best space; as near as humanly possible to the school without actually being in the “No Park” zonel!
From that point, the queues of dozens of cars form, often in the most inappropriate, inconsiderate places, on bus routes,on pavements, outside private homes, clogging up the often narrow streets of housing estates, totally resricting the flow of buses and other traffic in the area.
Chaos reigns when the schools disgorge their pupils! The pavements above and below the gates are clogged with children, grandparents, parents, pushchairs and prams and younger children; all trying to spot “their” child.
Everything eventually overflows into the road where a lone Lollypop person is trying his or her best to stem the tide! A bus stop, placed conveniently outside of the school, has long queues of pupils waiting for a bus that is being held up by the queues of badly parked cars!!
While I realise this is only for a short time, twice a day, there are often 3 or 4 schools in close proximity ( as in my own area) and this is happening outside every school!
Driving during school holidays is a pleasure compared to term time, the volume of traffic being radically reduced!!
Come on parents!
For the sake of your children’s safety and well being; use your common sense, your brains – and your legs!!
While you are driving your children around so they won’t be in danger, you are leaving them less aware, more dependent and could be putting them in more danger through their lack of interaction with roads, people and traffic!!