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I had a free range childhood.  In my early teens I cycled everywhere -15 miles to friends, to do the weekly shop when my mum was ill, you name it I did it. And when I wasn’t on my bike you’d still find me outdoors. And rightly so; young people should be outside, it’s their natural habitat

So, when Sustrans launched its Free Range Kids campaign to enable all children to be out and about on foot, bike and for play, I was delighted to become the campaign’s ambassador; a nation of children more independent and active can only be a good thing.  Yet, over the last few decades we have seen children become more cooped up and sedentary.  

Thirty years ago, for instance, 80 per cent of seven and eight year olds walked or cycled to school on their own now that figure is reversed and 80 per cent of children of a similar age are accompanied by an adult, increasingly in a car.

Take a look at some of the government guidance on road safety for children and you can begin to see why.  The Department for Transport tells us;  

Children under the age of eight have difficulty with dealing with traffic, so never let them out alone”

and

don’t let your child out alone, even with an older child”.

On the Think! website, children walking on pavements are advised to wear reflective clothing at all times so that car drivers can see them.

The implication is that if a child is not wearing a reflective jacket, and is injured in a collision with a car, it is somehow their fault.

This fear of traffic, reinforced by such government guidance, has led parents to remove their children from their streets and communities and keep them indoors to play, and on the back seat of the car when they need to go anywhere.  As a result, today’s children are less independent, less active and having less fun then when I was a kid.

This approach to road safety is deeply flawed.  Given that a massive 80 per cent of public space is made up of roads, pavements and street space, keeping our children away from them is hardly a practical answer.  Neither is dressing our children in high-visibility clothes from head to toe.  Both options fail to tackle the source of the danger.   

The time has come for a different approach.  Reducing traffic speeds in residential and urban areas to 20mph, and investing far more in creating safe walking and cycling routes, to school and beyond is key.  

In October, Norman Baker – then Minister for Transport - said the government would be making it easier for councils who want to introduce 20mph schemes - great news.  

But would more 20mph areas lead to more independent children?  Well, it can certainly save lives.  Sustrans estimates that as many as 580 deaths and serious injuries among children could be prevented in Britain each year with the introduction of 20mph into urban areas where 30mph is the current limit.  It would also be the first step in reclaiming our streets for people and making them places where playing, walking, cycling and living our lives are the priority.

Everyone can take action and sign Sustrans’ Free Range Kids pledge at www.sustrans.org.uk/freerangekids I have signed, and I will personally deliver the pledge to politicians at the end of the campaign to make sure they take notice.  

More than 100 MPs have already signed our Early Day Motion supporting Free Range kids.  Encourage your local MP to sign at http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/1954


With your help we can put freedom back at the heart of childhood to the benefit of us all.

 



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Written by Miranda Krestovnikoff   
Wednesday, 09 November 2011 09:56
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 November 2011 09:59
 

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