The summer holidays have come to an end and once again you see groups of children cycling to school. In September there is a peak in the number of accidents involving school children. That's why Dutch road safety organisation Veilig Verkeer Nederland (VVN) kicks off the new season with a campaign reminding drivers that school has started again, so they need to watch out for children on the road.
Most Dutch children cycle to school every day. Photo © Holland-Cycling.com
In Holland, being a cycling nation, the majority of Dutch children cycles to school every day. To give you an idea: the bike is the means of transport for around 40% of children in primary school and 75% in secondary school.
VVN is concerned that children nowadays start to take part in traffic at a later age. Cycling to school is considered an important part of their education. VVN claims that "this daily practice familiarises them with being in traffic and allows them to increase their experience. Not being able to cycle on its own can cause a delay of several years in the development of a child." This makes a child more vulnerable when it does - finally - go out on its own.
As the bike is such an important mode of transport for school children, it's no wonder that the safety of this vulnerable group is high on the agenda - not just on that of their anxious parents, but also on the agenda of policy makers and city planners who are often parents themselves. Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Every year some 35 school children up to 14 years old get killed in traffic accidents and more than 600 end up in hospital.
Part of the problem is busy traffic in general - but also the chaotic situation around schools when parents drop off their children by car! But there’s also the nature of children to take into account: they are playful, unpredictable and not yet able to see the full consequences of their actions. They cycle in groups and often pay more attention to each other than to the road.
September always shows a peak in the number of accidents involving children cycling to school. Why? For some children it's the first time they're going to school on their own. Others are going to a new school and are not yet familiar with the route. Car drivers also have to get used to children on the road again after the quiet summer holidays.
VVN kicks off the new season with a campaign reminding drivers that school has started again, so they need to watch out for children on the road. This way they hope to reduce the number of accidents. The campaign includes banners and posters strategically placed near schools and along the main routes to school. They also provide tips on how to get to school safely.
In this year’s campaign, children were asked which part of their route to school they think is most dangerous. By making them think about this, VVN hopes to encourage them to become more aware of their own safety on the road. Director Linda van der Eijck says: "Children are often very capable of saying where they think it's dangerous on their way to school. If we want children to gain traffic experience, we grown ups have to take notice of this."
It’s good that this campaign is repeated at the start of every school year. Children should get the opportunity to learn to participate in traffic at an early age - and what better way of doing this than by cycling to school every day. It’s the responsibility of the grown ups to make sure they can do this safely, if we want Holland to remain a cycling nation.