The children cycling debate

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has been following with interest this week’s public debate about the merits of children cycling unsupervised.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s chief executive, said: “One of RoSPA’s central principles is that life should be as safe as necessary, not as safe aspossible. Children develop valuable skills for life when they are given opportunities to get out and about to experience risks and learn how to cope with them. “RoSPA encourages children to cycle, and advises parents to ensure


their children have had some formal cycle training before they are allowed to ride on and near roads unsupervised. In addition to formal training, parents are well placed to know about their children’s skills and maturity, as well as the nature of the area in which they live. They can use this information to make decisions about whether to allow their children to use the roads unsupervised, either as a cyclist or pedestrian.

“The real issue in the case that has prompted so much attention this week – of an eight-year-old and five-year-old cycling to school by themselves – is the level of supervisory responsibility given to the older child. RoSPA’s concern about children having responsibility for other children relates to how they would cope if anything did go wrong.” Tom Mullarkey said that the debate was also important because it reignited discussions about safer cycling in general. He said: “We often hear that people would like to use their bikes but decide not to due to safety fears. Recently published provisional figures from the Department for Transport show that cyclist deaths fell by 10 per cent from 115 in 2008 to 104 in 2009, although, going against the general downward trend in road user casualties, the number of cyclists seriously injured rose by six per cent from 2,450 to 2,606. Cycle traffic levels are estimated to have risen by four per cent. Although the picture is mixed, people are right to be concerned about their safety while cycling.

“We want more people to cycle and we therefore need to stay focused on improving the safety of cyclists. Good training and awareness, for both motorists and cyclists is crucial, and we would encourage greater creativity, particularly when it comes to children cycling – maybe “cycling buses” for journeys to and from school, similar to “walking buses” that some areas already use. We would also welcome an expansion in cycle route networks. Adult cyclists are kept off most pavements for good reason, but where there are wide pavements with low pedestrian usage, local authorities can consider dividing them so they can become a space used by those on foot and on bicycles.”

RoSPA’s mission is to save lives and reduce injuries.