Is it legal for kids to walk to school alone? And what sort of safety considerations should parents keep in mind?
Like many parents, you may be concerned about whether your children will be safe on their walk to and from school. Figures from 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. Nearly a quarter of parents surveyed said a lack of safe routes and fears for their personal safety were reasons their children do not walk or ride a bike to school.
While walking to school is beneficial, how can you ensure you and your kids go about it safely and legally?
What's the legal age to walk to school alone?
Laws on children’s supervision in Australia generally take a reason-based approach. If a child is left unsupervised to walk to school, the parent will only have broken a law if the journey is unreasonable.
When interpreting what’s reasonable, a magistrate would consider factors including:
- How old is the child?
- How far is the child travelling?
- Has the child walked this route before?
- How safe is the neighbourhood?
Legal age to walk to school alone in Queensland
In Queensland, 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.”
The key factor here is what is considered an “unreasonable” amount of time, with reference to the factors above.
Legal age to walk to school alone in Victoria
In Victoria, section 494 of the 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.
Like Queensland, a magistrate would consider how unreasonable the time left unsupervised is by reference to factors like the child’s age and the journey’s length.
New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory
Besides Queensland and Victoria, there are no specific laws which dictate the age that children can walk to school alone.
That’s not to say parents aren’t accountable if their child is harmed. Parents owe a duty of care to their children, meaning they’re responsible for keeping them safe. If a child is injured walking to school in unreasonable circumstances, whether due to factors like their age or the length of the journey, their parents could face legal consequences.
When should you allow children to walk to school?
There’s no one age at which children should walk to school. Every child is different — some mature earlier and may be comfortable walking at 8 years old, others a few years later.
Different neighbourhoods and commutes pose different levels of risk — a walk through a busy city could require more situational awareness than one through the suburbs.
Walking to school safety tips
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 should help their children plan a safe route.
- Avoid taking shortcuts — stick to the planned route.
- Watch out for cars at every driveway and intersection.
- Don’t accept rides from strangers.
Shine Lawyers — here to help
If something has happened to you or a loved one while walking to school, get in touch. Shine Lawyers’ team of expert compensation lawyers work on a No Win No Fee basis* and can help you receive the compensation you and your family are entitled to.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: January 17, 2021.