Sydney Morning Herald – Monday 2 May 2005
Students driven to school rain or shine
By Alexandra Smith, Transport Reporter
Being driven to school was once saved for rainy days or when the bus didn't turn up. Now, barely 30 per cent of students walk to school and even those with free bus passes go by car rather than public transport.
Even living close to their school, defined as less than one kilometre away, does not encourage walking, with a NSW Ministry of Transport report showing 55 per cent of those who could walk to school are still driven.
The report also found that 32 per cent of students with free bus passes do not use them because they travel to school by car. A slightly higher number walk home, probably because their parents are at work.
The trend is not unique to NSW, with figures from the Bureau of Statistics showing that 76 per cent of Australians travel to school and work by car, while 6 per cent walk and 12 per cent use public transport.
As an increasing number of children ditch walking to school, the number of overweight and obese children and young adults continues to soar. About 23 per cent of children and adolescents are overweight, and 6 per cent are obese.
The president of the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, Sharryn Brownlee, said the number of children being driven to school was a reflection of the busy working life of parents rather than laziness.
Ms Brownlee said parents often decided to drive their children rather than walk them to school or put them on the bus because it was the quickest and easiest way to get them to school on time.
"There is a belief parents don't want children walking to school because it isn't safe," Ms Brownlee said. "But in reality, backpacks and school bags are so heavy now and parents also think it is just as easy to drop their kids at school on their way to work or shopping instead of putting them on buses."
She said some children were forced to spend 45 minutes getting to school when the most direct route would take 10 minutes.
The chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, Harold Scruby, said the initial aim of the Walk Safely to School Day, to be held on Friday, was to encourage children to cross the road safely, but now it also was to encourage them to walk to school.
"When I was a kid, there was one just fat kid in the class, but the reality is that by 2020, 50 per cent of Australian kids will be overweight and that can't be just blamed on diets, it's a lack of exercise," Mr Scruby said.