Walking to school can improve children’s health, and public health initiatives often focus on increasing the number of children who walk or bicycle to school. However, increased walking could also increase children’s risk of being injured in a collision with a vehicle.
A study published in the May 2014 Pediatrics, “Motor Vehicle-Pedestrian Collisions and Walking to School: The Role of the Built Environment,” (published online April 7), found that if the “built environment” was safe, more children walking to school was not related to more pedestrian collisions.
A built environment refers to a location for homes, buildings and businesses meant to support everyday living, working and playing.
In police-reported data from 2002 to 2011 in Toronto, Canada, the number of pedestrian/vehicle collisions involving children ages 4 to 12 was calculated. A total of 481 collisions took place within 105 school boundaries. The average collision rate was 7.4/10,000 children per year. Collisions were less frequent in areas near schools with more multifamily buildings, and more frequent in areas with greater densities of build environment features primarily related to crossing roads.
Study authors conclude that to increase walking safety for children, the focus should be on minimizing street crossings rather than diversity of land use. Pediatricians, parents, and school officials can advocate for safer, walkable routes by contacting the police, school administrators and city officials to help children travel to and from school safely.
Editor’s note: a related commentary, “There and Back Again: Safety and Health on the Journey to School,” will also be published online on April 7 in Pediatrics.