October 2 is International Walk to School Day. Each year, thousands of schools across the United States and in more than 40 countries worldwide organize events to promote the need for safe, walkable communities and the importance of healthier lifestyles. Currently, only 6 schools on Long Island have registered their Walk to School Day event. Here’s why your community needs one.
Walking to and from school is a great way to help children get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. According to the CDC less than one quarter of children ages 6-17 years participate in 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Regular physical activity helps children improve their lung and heart health, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, improve mental health, and reduce the risk of developing chronic health conditions. Researchers have also found that physical activity “improves classroom behaviors and benefits several aspects of academic achievement, especially mathematics-related skills, reading, and composite scores in youth.”
Despite all of the benefits of walking, the CDC reports that in most schools, 10% or fewer students walk or bike to school on an average day. An earlier report from the National Center for Safe Routes to School found that only 35 percent of the children living within one mile of their school walked or biked. A 2005 study by the CDC indicated that the top reasons for not walking or biking to school included: distance (61.5%), traffic-related danger (30.4%) weather (18.6%) and crime danger (11.7%).
Concerns about traffic-related injuries are understandable, especially in light of the fact that most pedestrians involved in crashes are between the years of 10 and 29 years old. Educating your child or family member on pedestrian safety and modeling safe walking techniques can help to prevent crashes involving children. Not sure where to start? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides the following tips for walkers:
· Stop at the curb or edge of the road before crossing
· Look left, then right, then left again before stepping into the street
· If you see a car, wait until it goes by
· If you see a parked car, make sure there is no driver and that the car is not running
· When no cars are coming, walk, do not run, across the road
· Always walk on the sidewalk
The National Center for Safe Routes to School has also developed Tips for Parents and Other Adults for Teaching Pedestrian Safety to Children to support education efforts.
Many communities on Long Island have not been designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. Worried that your child or family member’s route to school is unsafe? Consider using a walkability checklist to evaluate the route or encouraging your child or family member’s school to participate in the Safe Routes to School Program. You can also start or participate in a walking school bus. Each “bus” walks along a predetermined route with at least one adult leading the way, picking up children at designated stops, and walking them to school.
Want to make sure kids in your community are educated on traffic safety? Encourage teachers and other school staff to schedule traffic safety education programs through the NY Coalition for Transportation Safety. THE NYCTS will provide a 30 to 45 minute programs covering pedestrian and bicycle safety to children, teens, adults, and seniors at any school, library, senior center or community center in your area.