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Why would you let your kids ride to school?

By Anne Treasure - 21 October 2016 27

“My youngest has recently started riding his sister’s bigger bike and commented ‘I’m going sooo fast…. wheeeee!’” Sean Clutterbuck has three children: Flynn is eight years old, Tara is six and Eric the speed demon is four.

“He was only doing about 10-15km/h but he loved it.”

The Clutterbuck kids have been riding with their parents in one form or another since before they could walk; first in a bike trailer, then on a bike seat, and then on their own bikes. All three were riding without training wheels by the age of four.

And unlike most children in Australia, they regularly ride their bikes to school.

Recent reports show Australian school children are not walking or cycling to school as much as they used to. The National Cycling Strategy Implementation Report, Active Healthy Kids Australia Progress Report, and Transport Canberra’s Keep Canberra Moving report all show that Australian children are mostly chauffeured to and from school by car.

Many parents are concerned about potential threats their children could encounter while riding a bike in public. The parental mind is at its most creative when imagining awful things that could happen to their child.

So why would any parent encourage their child to walk or ride a bike to school?

“It was a way of incorporating active travel as part of their lives, and it’s fun,” says Sean, who rides with his young children.

“It is something we can all do together which allows the kids a degree of freedom, plus permits them to go faster, travel further and therefore cover more ground than they would walking. Plus, [they] see and explore in a way not possible from the car.”

For Zoe Bowman, who lives in Canberra’s north, the idea of her children getting themselves to and from school is liberating, for herself and also her children.

“Partly I wanted them to have the freedom of it, said Zoe. “I loved walking to and from school when I was a kid, or at least I’m nostalgic about it.”

Her youngest, nine-year-old Jethro, walks to the primary school near their house, while 14-year-old Sage rides his bike to high school every day.

Zoe says that independence, “massive parental convenience” and fitness are the main benefits her family get from their kids walking and riding to school.

“When Sage started high school, it was going to be really logistically annoying to drive him, so he just rode from the beginning.”

“I don’t expect Sage to come straight home either, he sometimes has adventures on the way. He has a phone and if he’s not home an hour after school finishes I start to wonder where he is and he walks in.”

Melissa McEwen’s sons, Sebastian (14) and Jude (12), have both been riding to school since they started high school.  Their younger brother Zachary (10) walks to school every day.

Like Sean and Zoe, Melissa has been riding with her kids since they were very small. As any parent knows, young children copy what they see their parents doing – and research has shown that one way to get more kids riding bikes is for parents to take the lead.

“We started riding when we moved to Turner when Zachary was a baby. We rode the boys to childcare most days at ANU. It was often a convoy effort with the two smallest in a bike trailer and the eldest on a trailing bike.”

Sebastian and Jude prefer riding to school because it saves them time, and Melissa explains, “It gives them a sense of independence and an ability to do their own thing with their friends”.

“Life is so much easier when your children can transport themselves,” says Melissa.

“Being able to ride means that there is more time in the morning before the boys need to leave and there is also less organisation needed.

“The sense of independence and self-reliance they get from being their own mode of transportation feeds into other parts of their lives – they know that they don’t have to look to us for everything.

“There is nothing better than having children who are resourceful and self-reliant, and being in control of their own ‘vehicle’ really adds to that.”

Being active with your kids when they are young sets them up to be active throughout their whole lives. So why wouldn’t you encourage them to ride or walk to school?

Children who cycle to school experience a range of benefits, including:

  • exercise and decreased incidence of physical health problems
  • improved mental health and more social connections 
  • enhanced IQ and ability to learn
  • freedom and independent movement

The community also reaps the benefits from getting children on their bikes. These include:

  • fewer chauffeur duties for parents
  • less traffic on the roads
  • less pollution
  • a friendlier civic environment

Ride Safe To School Week runs from Mon 31 Oct 2016 – Fri 4 Nov 2016. It has been developed to encourage kids to ride to school, while reinforcing safety messages around cycling.

If you are looking for a way to get your 11-15 year old on their bike, Active Rides is an after-school program designed to encourage kids to develop cycling skills in a fun environment. 

What’s Your opinion?


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27 Responses to
Why would you let your kids ride to school?
wildturkeycanoe 2:51 pm 22 Oct 16

The one biggest issue I [as a parent] have with kids riding or walking to school on their own, is the news reports of child abductions and muggings.
Whether or not the figures or reports are increasing or are more or less prevalent than thirty or forty years ago, I am not going to let my under twelves take themselves to school and back. We have adults being targeted by crime at any time of the day so vulnerable children are even easier to grab or coax into a passing car or van. Don’t say it isn’t possible or doesn’t happen in Canberra, it does and it has, even close to where we live. At least if I am riding with them they are safer in numbers and stand a better chance of repelling a deviant. It also gives me fresh air and exercise, plus is about the only exercise I can do that gets my heart rate going whilst not putting too much strain on the bulging disc in my lower back. It is actually less painful than walking so I encourage the kids to ride as often as possible, except when it is raining.
The helmet laws are dumb. I’m pro helmet for under sixteens due to there being more risks for people with less experience and more adventurous riding styles, but once you are old enough to vote, drive a car and take responsibility for yourself, you should be allowed to choose if you want to slap on a hat. I also can’t stand that my Bluetooth headphones won’t sit comfortably under the helmet. That goes for sunglasses too, which the helmet weighs down on and irritates the top of my ears. It is the most annoying thing about riding and we really should have a choice in the matter. Perhaps a petition is required to remove the mandatory status of this equipment.

Maya123 1:22 pm 22 Oct 16

carnardly said :

I rode for years without a helmet back in the day. I wear a helmet now. That’s because it’s the law though.

But if I simply want to get on and tootle to the shops should I HAVE to wear a lid? Well, THAT is the question. I can certainly choose to, but riding to the shops is no more unsafe or dangerous than it was 50 years ago. The number of people that might’ve previously jumped on a bike to buy milk and bread has certainly dropped off due to MHL. If the law was repealed, there’s nothing stopping those who wear lids continuing to do so. Those that now don’t have to may start to come back.

How about pro choice?

switch said :

Anne Treasure said :

Yep, having parents that use active travel like bike riding is one of the biggest indicators of whether a child will also take up bike riding – as any parent knows, kids imitate the behaviour that their parents model for them.

We rode lots of places with the kids, and they rode their bikes to school (without us to high school). Then by college they or their friends could afford cars and the bikes have quietly rusted in the shed ever since.

Was this just outings on the weekend and perhaps holidays, or did they witness you riding your bikes as everyday use, such as to work and the shops? This can make the difference to attitude, whether it’s seen only as recreation (optional) or something that is used as part of normal life.

carnardly 11:49 am 22 Oct 16

I rode for years without a helmet back in the day. I wear a helmet now. That’s because it’s the law though.

But if I simply want to get on and tootle to the shops should I HAVE to wear a lid? Well, THAT is the question. I can certainly choose to, but riding to the shops is no more unsafe or dangerous than it was 50 years ago. The number of people that might’ve previously jumped on a bike to buy milk and bread has certainly dropped off due to MHL. If the law was repealed, there’s nothing stopping those who wear lids continuing to do so. Those that now don’t have to may start to come back.

How about pro choice?

joingler 9:47 am 22 Oct 16

rommeldog56 said :

Grail said :

rommeldog56 said :

And wear a helmet. There are some ning nongs on here and elsewhere who call for a total ban on wearing helmets.

Who is calling for a total ban on wearing helmets?

In this RiotAct thread, check out the comments from poster ” burtthebike ” :

http://the-riotact.com/bike-helmets-would-remain-compulsory-under-libs/186368

There were other posters too in earlier similar threads espousing the “non helmet wearing ” view.

Thankfully, i understand that Pedal Power supports the wearing of helmets.

burtthebike doesn’t want helmets banned. They never claimed such a thing. Just claimed that helmets don’t really provide much safety to the rider.

There are a number of people (myself included) who wish that helmets were not compulsory. But no one has claimed they should be ‘banned’.

switch 8:49 am 22 Oct 16

Anne Treasure said :

Yep, having parents that use active travel like bike riding is one of the biggest indicators of whether a child will also take up bike riding – as any parent knows, kids imitate the behaviour that their parents model for them.

We rode lots of places with the kids, and they rode their bikes to school (without us to high school). Then by college they or their friends could afford cars and the bikes have quietly rusted in the shed ever since.

Anne Treasure 8:35 am 22 Oct 16

carnardly said :

‘more people will cycle if the govmint requires that cyclists use mudguards??’

Blimey, i’ve survived for decades without them.

Same for tyres. *I* choose what tyres i use on my bike. Not the manufacturer. and certainly not the govmint.

People are more likely to ride if they feel safe. Some mum and dads will never consider it ‘just because’. It’s a hassle. It’ll be too hot. Or too cold. I need to look nice at work.

It takes too long. blah blah.

The ones who might give it a go and are introduced to a buddy who can ride with them and teach them the tricks of the trade are the ones that may dip their feet in further and carry on.

By the way – the kid in the photo needs his helmet straps fixed by someone that knows how a helmet should fit. The way it is now will do him absolutely no favours if he ever needs it.

Average mum and dads that don’t ride regularly don’t always have the smarts in teaching kids how to ride as safely as they need to – simply because they don’t ride and know the dangers. 3 days ago i saw a group of Primary school kids riding along together.

but close half wheeling and a one hand wobble sent one kid to the ground.

I scooped him up, saw he was okay and sent him on his way.

I guess they’ll work it out in time but having the parents ride regularly certainly gives them a better head start as they’re taught what to look out for.

Yep, having parents that use active travel like bike riding is one of the biggest indicators of whether a child will also take up bike riding – as any parent knows, kids imitate the behaviour that their parents model for them.

It’s one of the reasons I started riding a bike again – I want to give my child the best opportunity to be fit and healthy throughout her life. She’s only 1, but normalising the behaviour is important, so have to start early.

carnardly 12:31 am 22 Oct 16

‘more people will cycle if the govmint requires that cyclists use mudguards??’ Blimey, i’ve survived for decades without them. Same for tyres. *I* choose what tyres i use on my bike. Not the manufacturer. and certainly not the govmint.

People are more likely to ride if they feel safe. Some mum and dads will never consider it ‘just because’. It’s a hassle. It’ll be too hot. Or too cold. I need to look nice at work. It takes too long. blah blah. The ones who might give it a go and are introduced to a buddy who can ride with them and teach them the tricks of the trade are the ones that may dip their feet in further and carry on.

By the way – the kid in the photo needs his helmet straps fixed by someone that knows how a helmet should fit. The way it is now will do him absolutely no favours if he ever needs it. Average mum and dads that don’t ride regularly don’t always have the smarts in teaching kids how to ride as safely as they need to – simply because they don’t ride and know the dangers. 3 days ago i saw a group of Primary school kids riding along together. but close half wheeling and a one hand wobble sent one kid to the ground. I scooped him up, saw he was okay and sent him on his way. I guess they’ll work it out in time but having the parents ride regularly certainly gives them a better head start as they’re taught what to look out for.

Maya123 6:55 pm 21 Oct 16

Leon Arundell said :

The Government will get more people riding to school if it:
* provides more footpaths (and pram ramps) to make it easier to ride;
* stops people from obstructing nature strips with gardens and cars;
* requires people to fix the blind spots that make it dangerous to pass many driveways;
* changes the road rules so that, like pedestrians, cyclists can cross roads without having to give way to EVERY on-road vehicle;
* educates drivers about the give way rules;
* reduces speed limits on residential streets;
* requires bicycles to have basic equipment like mudguards and secure helmet storage; and
* requires manufacturers to provide useful information about (high) bicycle maintenance requirements and (lack of!) puncture resistance of bicycle tyres.

“* requires people to fix the blind spots that make it dangerous to pass many driveways;”
Mugga Way is a good example. Huge hedges growing up against the path blocking the view of driveways

“* changes the road rules so that, like pedestrians, cyclists can cross roads without having to give way to EVERY on-road vehicle;”
People walking and cycling have right of way of cars coming from parking areas, but unfortunately some drivers either don’t know this, or believe might is right. (I confirmed this rule with Roads.) People cycling can now cross crossings and cars must give way. Cyclists must slow down though, as many do, but of course a few don’t, just like a few drivers don’t give way either. Most drivers do stop to give way, and did, even when it was once illegal for a bike to cross the crossing.

* requires bicycles to have basic equipment like mudguards and secure helmet storage; and”
Why mudguards? I rode my bike to work for over thirty years without needing mudguards. I didn’t ride in mud and the rear pannier stopped the water splashing up. Mudguards can cause problems, and how would they fit on the bus rack? What do you think “secure helmet storage” would be? I just carried my helmet inside with me, which was easy. I never needed anything more complicated.

“* requires manufacturers to provide useful information about (high) bicycle maintenance requirements and (lack of!) puncture resistance of bicycle tyres.”
Spend more and more resistant tyres are available.

Leon Arundell 5:40 pm 21 Oct 16

The Government will get more people riding to school if it:
* provides more footpaths (and pram ramps) to make it easier to ride;
* stops people from obstructing nature strips with gardens and cars;
* requires people to fix the blind spots that make it dangerous to pass many driveways;
* changes the road rules so that, like pedestrians, cyclists can cross roads without having to give way to EVERY on-road vehicle;
* educates drivers about the give way rules;
* reduces speed limits on residential streets;
* requires bicycles to have basic equipment like mudguards and secure helmet storage; and
* requires manufacturers to provide useful information about (high) bicycle maintenance requirements and (lack of!) puncture resistance of bicycle tyres.

Holden Caulfield 12:36 pm 21 Oct 16

Cynical response: But when will mum get to drive her SUV behemoth?!

Even more cynical response: We are a fearful society, ingrained in us through advertising and the never ending news cycle. The advertising angle is to fear mothers, and yes it’s usually mothers targeted, into buying germ killing products to protect their little bundles of joy and the news angle to is scare you into watching their product so you can watch the fearful advertising in the breaks. Rinse and repeat! That’s why my generation (40s) used to walk/cycle to school quite happily and safely but, as parents, we have been taught to be scared of any threat imaginable, real or otherwise.

rommeldog56 11:57 am 21 Oct 16

Grail said :

rommeldog56 said :

And wear a helmet. There are some ning nongs on here and elsewhere who call for a total ban on wearing helmets.

Who is calling for a total ban on wearing helmets?

In this RiotAct thread, check out the comments from poster ” burtthebike ” :

http://the-riotact.com/bike-helmets-would-remain-compulsory-under-libs/186368

There were other posters too in earlier similar threads espousing the “non helmet wearing ” view.

Thankfully, i understand that Pedal Power supports the wearing of helmets.

Rollersk8r 11:48 am 21 Oct 16

I regularly ride the kids to school and they’re 6 and 8. However, like most parents I think it’s going to be a few years yet before I let them ride by themselves. Not keen on getting either of them a phone and there’s too much that could go wrong.

Having said that, I got myself to school from around their age – and managed to survive various mishaps along the way.

Grail 11:02 am 21 Oct 16

rommeldog56 said :

And wear a helmet. There are some ning nongs on here and elsewhere who call for a total ban on wearing helmets.

Who is calling for a total ban on wearing helmets?

Maya123 10:12 am 21 Oct 16

It is only the last generation (maybe two?) who worry about children riding and walking to school. Before that most children did, and usually without their parents with them. I walked by myself to school from age four. I insisted I be allowed to, after my first day of school, because “I was big enough now” 🙂 Mind you though, that primary school was only down the road and apparently my mother would stand at our front gate and watch to see I got there safely. I moved school several times and walked to each school. I began to ride my bike by myself across a Brisbane suburb to school from about ten years old. About two kms. My brother rode to school, my neighbours rode to various schools. It was considered normal.

rommeldog56 7:38 am 21 Oct 16

As long as they do it safely and ideally under adult supervision until they are more experienced riders and more safety aware – especially if they need to cross roads.

And wear a helmet. There are some ning nongs on here and elsewhere who call for a total ban on wearing helmets. Let adults risk stuffing them selves up if they have an accident on a bike while not wearing a helmet, but not the kids.

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