Walking to school is a useful way for children to gain the benefits of regular exercise early, which research has shown helps to prevent health problems in later life. Maybe you let your kids walk to school alone all the time. But is it legal? And what sort of safety considerations should you take into account?
Like many parents, you may be concerned about whether or not your children will be safe on their walk to and from school. If that’s the case, you’re not alone. Figures from a survey of 2012 adults conducted by the Heart Foundation’s LiveLighter campaign showed that while over 50% of parents believe it’s important for kids to be able to walk to school unsupervised, fewer than a third believe it’s safe. A quarter of parents surveyed said a lack of safe routes (24%) and personal safety (24%) were reasons their children do not walk or ride a bike to school.
So while it's beneficial, how can you ensure your kids go about it safely and legally?
Safety First – Safety precautions for children
Victoria Police have a list of precautions to help kids stay safe when walking to school. Some of their suggestions include:
- Walk confidently
- Pay attention to what’s going on around you
- Don’t wear headphones as they may stop you from hearing danger approaching
- Find an easy way to get to school and home again with good crossings and as little traffic as possible.
Some other helpful tips include:
- Parents, plan a safe route
- Avoid taking shortcuts
- Watch out for cars at every driveway and intersection
- Don’t accept rides from strangers
- Young children should walk with an adult
Is it legal for kids to walk to school alone?
In Queensland it can be illegal to let children under 12 walk or ride to school by themselves.
Section 364A of the Queensland Criminal Code says: “A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour. Maximum Penalty — 3 years imprisonment.”
In New South Wales there is no specific law that dictates the age that children can be left alone, instead it is left up to the parents' better judgement to decide if they feel their child is mature enough to walk alone.
Similarly to Queensland, Victorian children should not be left to walk alone, but the law doesn't stipulate what age. Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, states:
A person who has the control or charge of a child must not leave the child without making reasonable provision for the child's supervision and care for a time which is unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
In all other states there are no clear-cut laws that specify the age at which children can be left alone to walk to and from school. Inadequate child supervision offences could apply to children up to 16 or 18 years of age.
How old is the child? How far is the child travelling? Has the child walked this particular route before? What is the neighbourhood like? A magistrate would take these kinds of considerations into account if a person is charged.
When should you allow children to walk to school?
Gavin De Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, says there is no “magic age” when children are ready to start walking to school. He suggests parents see if their children can pass the “Test of Twelve”, which is used more commonly to assess a child’s readiness to stay home alone but applies to walking to and from school as well.
If you don’t want to run afoul of the law in Queensland, it’s best to wait until your child is 12 before allowing them to walk to school unsupervised.
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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: January 13, 2020.