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Research funded by the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research

The Family and the School Run – What would make a real difference?

Ruth Bradshaw, Research Fellow, Transport Studies Group, University of Westminster

Background

The school journey is very important in terms of children’s travel requirements – in fact, a third of all journeys made by children are for education purposes. There are increasing concerns about the high levels of car use for the school journey and the contribution that such journeys make to congestion. The latest National Travel Survey statistics show that on average 29% of pupils travelled to school by car in 1995/97, a sixty percent increase since the mid 1980s. These journeys account for almost a fifth of all car journeys in progress in urban areas at the busiest part of the morning rush-hour during term time. There are also concerns that children who are ferried everywhere by car have less opportunity for exercise as part of their daily routine and are not developing the road skills they need as pedestrians or cyclists. Prompted by these concerns, the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research has recently commissioned the Transport Studies Group at the University of Westminster to undertake research on the ‘school run’.

 

Aims of the Study

The Transport Studies Group will look more widely at the issues associated with the ‘school run’ than those traditionally addressed by transport planners. The study will look at how mode choice for the school journey influences, or is influenced by, the activities of the rest of the household e.g. whether the school escort journey is linked to other trips and whether there are differences in the mode used for different household types.

A scoping report will be produced in the autumn setting out recommendations for further research. The aim is to develop proposals, which could bring about a fundamental shift, not only in parental attitude and road user behaviour, but also in the way the entire community tackles the journey to and from school. Solutions need to be found which enable not driving a child to school to be the sensible option so the study will need to look at how alternatives to the car can be encouraged without detrimental impacts on other family activities. Solutions may include engineering measures and the provision of adequate facilities at school but it is likely that they would also include more innovative measures where the task of escorting can be shared, or even removed.

 

Methodology

The first part of the study is a literature review and examination of existing data on relevant topics. This will be followed by new exploratory survey work. A small number of household interviews will be undertaken, the aim of which is to examine the factors which influence the decision to drive a child to school and to identify the barriers to change. The household interviews will also contribute to the development of solutions and the identification of areas for further research by providing a detailed understanding of the issues involved. In order to gain a national picture of children’s travel patterns, activities and barriers to change, questions will be added to a weekly ‘omnimas’ survey undertaken by a market research company. The questions will be designed to determine why parents use particular modes and will provide perceptual/attitudinal data to complement National Travel Survey data.

The literature will be supplemented by interviews with ‘experts’ in particular aspects relating to the study e.g. child health and development. Other ‘expert’ interviews will be carried out with policy practitioners with a particular interest in the school journey e.g. representatives of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and local government. The interviews with practitioners will serve to ensure that the proposals being developed are appropriate to the needs of those making and implementing policy in this area. The scoping study will conclude in the autumn with a workshop to which a range of policy practitioners will be invited to provide their views on the recommendations put forward for the next stage of the project and to consider how to take them forward.

 

Contact Details

For further information, please contact: Ruth Bradshaw, Research Fellow, Transport Studies Group, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS.

Tel: +44 171 911 5834. Fax: +44 171 911 5057. Email: bradshr@westminster.ac.uk

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