/ 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?

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!!


From the age of five – I walked to school on my own – except on my first day. I crossed 15 roads two being main roads – about a mile and a half. I was taught by my mother and brother how to cross roads properly before I went to school. Where has common sense gone?

From eleven I walked over four miles to school as the public bus service was not reliable enough to arrive at school at the correct time every day.

The only ‘accident’ I had was crossing ON a zebra crossing when a car driver drove over my foot at 15 years old. He overtook on the inside while I was walking across – only a miracle stopped me being really injured. He did not stop of course.

The problem is it seems that far far too many pedestrians cross roads as and when they want to. Ignoring zebra crossings, islands and traffic lights “simply” looking and running. No wonder so many children also haven’t a clue,.

I pass an infant school daily – the road surrounding it is chock-a-block with cars stopping in the middle of the road – or starting off without signalling. As before where is the common sense?

Living 3 doors away from a junior school I have first hand experience.
Parents are the worst culprit as they jostle to park a car’s length nearer the school gate and then endanger the children on departing through the rest of the mass of children who are walking away from the school.

In the mornings they generally are not giving their full attention to the road as is evident by the way they are oblivious to other traffic trying to exit drives and the speed of the approach to the kerbside.

Afternoon pickup often results in obstructed drives and again parking nearest the school where the mass of children exit.

Until that sector of parents (many over weight) set an example by walking to a more sensible parking spot, say 100-200 metres away from the school entrance, there is little hope of their children enjoying a walk.

As a working mother, I used to drop my children at Primary School on the way to work and frequently received letters pointing out that the school would not take responsibility for children left in the playground before 8.50am! When they got to secondary school they left home at 7.20am to catch a bus into town, 3 miles away, to catch the school bus, which left the bus station at 7.50am. What a farce – either the local bus didn’t turn up (usual excuse was that the driver had phoned in sick) and they came back home needing a lift, or they got to the bus station and the school bus wasn’t running, so they rang from the phone box for a lift! Either way, I ended up turning out with the car to pick them up, sometimes managing to intercept the school bus en route if it had left early, but usually having to take them in to school and being late for work
I used to get angry with bus companies who just left children stranded, especially on dark mornings. Thankfully they never came to any harm, but my daughter has been offered lifts by strangers whilst waiting for the bus.
And as if it wasn’t bad enough getting them to school, I often had to go and rescue them from school at 4 o’clock when the bus failed to show. They’ve been brought home by a teacher before today!
Now they are all grown up and I’ve retired, I don’t venture out before 9.30am!

I don’t have children so this is not directly relevant to me but surely many parents drive their children to school to ensure they actually get there? It is the parents who are fined if their children truant so they are complying with their legal duty to ensure theit child is educated. As an earlier poster said there is not usually enough time to walk to the school and back home to collect the car and still get to work on time (08:45 as the earliest arrival time is stupid – one of my schools used to start assembly at 08:45) It would be better if the schools organised drop-off /pickup areas inside the premises (e.g. the staff car park) instead of everybody having to stop on the road.

OK, if you live less than a mile and a half from school and your children are old enough to walk on their own there is absolutely NO excuse in the world why they cannot walk!

But, to those parents who do have to drive their kids because of distance, why do some of you absolutely insist on dropping your kids off practically on to their desks?! Schools become congested and therefore polluted and dangerous areas. Surely it’s wiser to park some distance away and either spend 10-15 quality mins walking with your child (perish the thought of actually spending some time with them, how radical is that in 2010?!) or drop them off so the obese little so-and-sos can get some much needed ‘fresh’ air and exercise!

Some of this stuff is just a no-brainer and to those parents that come up with some of the most pathetic excuses you ought to take a really serious look at yourselves and ask that important question: why did I actually have children????

As a parent of a 6 year old in a country primary school, I would love to walk her there when the weather is fine and my work permits, but there is no footpath on the busy road to the school so it is unsafe and especially so during rush hour. The school bus does not pass near our house, so if I did not have a car to drive her to school I would have to take a taxi there and back twice a day – as several parents already do.

I happened to live maybe a 15 minute walk from my school when i was a kid, but it did involve three instances of crossing a main road. My mother walked me to school until i was 10, constantly drumming ‘look both ways before crossing the street’ into me (something todays kids dont have) and then let me do it myself, although i now know she was following me anyway on the first few days, just to make sure. At the age of 12 i was put into a special school which was 17 miles away and other local students were taken in a taxi provided by the school in question.

The fact is school dropping off time tends to co-incide with parents starting work time. The car will be on the road whether its going to the school or not, most of them drop the kid off and then continue on to work, they dont turn round and drive back home again. So that ‘nine smelly cars’ will still be on the road, but presumably if they dont take the minor detour to the school you’ll be happy. And the only time i find it hard to breathe behind any vehicle is when its a Bus, putting out 60 times more nox gases than a car. Perhaps Which should launch an anti-bus campaign.

The real question is, why are Which and all the people in here so bothered about other peoples lives? How is where other people work, the car they use, their prefered means of transport, their kids, their family, their life etc anything to do with you in the slightest? Rather than telling parents to look at themselves, you should ask yourself what its got to do with you. They’re not doing anything illegal, this is a free country. Labour tried to make it a communist state but we got them out just in time. Why should people be hectored, badgered and served a guilt trip for living their life the way they see fit?