‘Default choice’ of car travel harming children’s health

More needs done to encourage walking and cycling
More needs done to encourage walking and cycling
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Children’s health stands to ­suffer unless the Scottish ­Government and other administrations across the UK break out of their “windscreen perspective” which prioritises car use over public transport, a group of Scottish clinicians and transport experts have warned.

The focus on car travel as the “default choice” has resulted in environments that can feel “too risky” for pedestrians and cyclists, the researchers said.

Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, they pointed out that the average length of a journey to and from school has nearly doubled over the past three decades to just under four miles, and have urged governments and planners to create more “safe routes” to schools.

The group, which includes researchers from Edinburgh and Napier universities, also suggested that governments here in the UK could emulate school travel initiatives pioneered in Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

In what they described as a “call to action”, the researchers said sustainable measures can help curb car use, boost economic growth, cut carbon emissions, and promote quality of life. Although the group praised the likes of the Scottish Government’s decision to double its active travel budget to around £80m a year, it said more could be done.

The group said: “For a fraction of the road building programme cost, we could see not just safe routes to schools, but, even more importantly, safe routes wholesale across urban areas.”

In an accompanying letter to transport minister Humza Yousaf and his counterparts across the UK, the group said significant savings could be made in the NHS as well.

The clinicians – Professor Chris Oliver and Dr Paul Kelly from the University of Edinburgh’s institute for sport, physical education and health sciences, and Dr Adrian Davis from Edinburgh Napier University’s transport research institute – stated: “The rhetoric of improving the environment in favour of children’s active travel has been visible for at least two decades, but tangible changes have largely been absent from transport planning.

“We suggest the time is right to redress the imbalance and give back to today’s children many of the freedoms that older adults recall and benefited from in terms of the levels of independent mobility.”

A spokesman for Transport Scotland said that with more than £217m invested in active travel since 2011, it was continuing to boost investment in walking and cycling and was putting active travel “at the heart of transport planning”.

He said: “We are learning from other European neighbours, such as The Netherlands, on how best to build active and healthy communities. Our focus is on making our towns and cities safer and friendlier with more segregated infrastructure, and putting people and place before motorised vehicles.”