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Alice Ferguson

We need a plan for children, not motorists

posted this in Active Travel, Children's play, health and wellbeing, Street Space on 05/10/2023

A small child holds up a homemade sign saying 'Safe Streets Now'

“We are not a nation of motorists, we’re a nation of families”. These words were spoken by Joanne Colleran, mother of 6-year old Bobby who was struck and killed by a car whilst walking to school. She was talking directly to Rishi Sunak, in response to his “plan for drivers” which proposes to limit councils’ powers to make streets safer. Joanne’s speech was projected onto the House of Commons as a powerful reminder of the devastating impact of traffic danger and speed in our communities.

The government claims that the UK’s roads are relatively safe. Yet, on average, no fewer than thirty children are killed or seriously injured every week whilst walking or cycling on local streets. Last year, 21 children (aged 0-15) lost their lives in this way. A number can’t possibly convey the enormity of this tragedy. That’s 21 individual children, like Bobby, who don’t get to grow up. 21 families who have to live with their loss forever. And this is in the context of a huge drop in numbers of children walking or cycling to school over the past few decades, largely as a result of streets becoming more traffic dominated. In other words, one of the reasons this figure is not even higher is that children are out and about far less than they used to be.

This is the reason 20mph limits and school streets are being implemented by councils, with strong support from local communities and – until this week – encouraged by the Government. To frame such efforts as a “war on motorists” – and to actively prevent councils from making streets safer – is bizarre and irresponsible. It is in nobody’s interests. Keeping streets unsafe puts children’s lives in danger and prevents them from having the freedom they need to be healthy and happy – to walk and cycle, to play outside near home, to get to the park and to see their friends.

The positive impact of 20mph limits for safety and for communities is well evidenced. As is local support for them. In this context, it is extremely odd that Government minister thinks Wales implementing a 20mph limit across most residential areas is “insane”.

Drivers are not “under attack” – quite the reverse. For decades, our towns and cities have been designed around the car above all other forms of transport. The results of this have not been great for anyone – choked streets, disconnected communities, failing high streets, obesity and ill health. Most of all, children have (unwillingly, unknowingly) sacrificed their freedom – and in some cases, their lives.

Most people would agree that attempts to redress these mistakes of the past are sensible, necessary and welcome. Who doesn’t want their local streets to be healthier, safer and more pleasant? To easily get to the shops or the park without having to drive? To feel ok about their children walking to school at a reasonable age? To see an end to death and injury on the streets?

Most of us who do drive are very happy to use our cars within reasonable boundaries designed to avoid chaos and keep everyone safe. This is not about removing freedom – it’s just how good society works. In the school playground, rules are in place to prevent bullying and to protect the smallest children. Nobody, except the bullies, wants a world where the bullies rule the playground.

Safe Streets Now!

Photo: RobertJCBrowne /Bristol247

Most of us – however often we drive – don’t primarily identify as “motorists”. Or, for that matter “cyclists”, “walkers” etc. These are just different ways we get about our lives on different days. Far more importantly, we are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We care about children’s safety and wellbeing. And many of us have had enough of worrying that our child will be hit by a car. That they won’t come home from school one day.

Azaan Khan was one such child – killed by a speeding driver whilst cycling to school in Birmingham last summer. He was just 12 years old. It is impossible to imagine the suffering his family will have to live with forever.

Local campaigners have made sure Azaan will not just be a statistic on a Department for Transport spreadsheet. Since his death and with his family’s blessing, they have fought tirelessly to raise awareness about the need for change – and to demand that decision-makers sit up and take action.

This call for change is now spreading across the country. On 30th September, the first Safe Streets Now national day of action saw 14 demonstrations take place in towns and cities, with everyone demanding the same thing: an end to road danger in our communities. Playing Out supported this nationally and in Bristol.

And the previous weekend, over 4,000 children and adults took part in Kidical Mass bike rides across the UK. This international movement has grown rapidly over the past couple of years and will continue to gain momentum as more families hear about it and join in.

Environmental transport charity ETA produced this hard-hitting film a few years ago, as a call to action: Stop Killing Our Children

This could be the UK’s Stop de Kindermoord moment.

It’s essential that children are not forgotten in the noisy debate around streets. In fact, we (and politicians) should be putting children front and centre. We need an end to the “war on children” that has been allowed to dominate, restrict – and take – their lives for so long. We need to show those in power what – and who – we really care about. We need to reclaim our streets for children.

 

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