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Walking to School Safely

It’s a new year. And as the holidays draw to a close, it isn’t long until the first semester starts at school. Maybe you let your kids walk to school alone all the time? Maybe you walked yourself during your own school days? 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 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 some 64% of parents reported driving their children to school most days.

The same survey revealed 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.

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. So how should they go about it safely?

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 the school with good crossings and as little traffic as possible

Some other helpful tips:

  • 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

Did You Know? - Children under 12

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.”

Different states have different legislation so it pays to check the particular rules in your state or territory.

However, letting your kids walk to school alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be serving a jail sentence. As ABC News points out, whether a particular length of time counts as “unreasonable” depends on a number of variables.

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 when 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: February 1, 2019.

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