Health fears after survey shows that nearly half of kids are driven to school
Almost half of Northern Irish primary pupils who live a short walk from school are driven there by car, it has been revealed.
The news has sparked concerns for the youngsters' health after a new government survey revealed 55% of primary pupils who live within a mile of school go there on foot - but 44% are driven by car. The remaining 2% take the bus.
The picture is brighter for older children, with 65% of pupils who live within a mile of school walking and 8% taking the bus. More than a quarter (27%) of post primary children who live less than a mile from school are taken there by car.
More than three-fifths of primary children are driven to school by car, with 29% walking and 9% taking the bus, according to figures from the 2014/15 Continuous Household Survey.
Almost half of post-primary pupils travel by bus and 30% go by car. Some 19% go on foot, while 1% cycle and 1% take the train.
Sustainable transport charity Sustrans said the figures are of deep concern and added that one of the biggest barriers to walking and cycling is parental concern about safety.
It called for the government to fund 20mph zones around schools, on-road cycle training for every child and improvements in infrastructure to give parents the confidence to let children make their way to school by themselves.
Sustrans Northern Ireland director Gordon Clarke said: "It is disappointing to see that three-fifths of schoolchildren are still being driven to school instead of walking, cycling or taking public transport.
"It is of deep concern for the health of the next generation that even though 53% of primary school pupils live less than a mile from school, a large proportion (44%) are still driven by car.
"The Active School Travel Programme - a three-year programme funded by the Department for Regional Development and the Public Health Agency - has been successful in increasing the number of children who travel actively to school. Sustrans delivers this programme but unfortunately it only covers 191 schools."
Mr Clarke said that after a year of the programme, he had seen an increase in the number of children walking and cycling to school from 38% to 50%.
"One of the biggest barriers to active travel is parents' concerns about safety. Distance from home to school, especially in rural areas is another major barrier," he said.
"We urge government to invest in 20mph zones around schools, on-road cycle training for every child and improving infrastructure to give parents the confidence to allow their children to get to school safely by themselves.
"The sad reality is that the majority of children want to travel actively to school.
"Our survey found eight out of 10 pupils want to walk, scoot or cycle to school, but only half currently do."
Less than half (49%) of primary school pupils and around a third (33%) of post-primary pupils take more than 60 minutes of physical activity a day, over and above walking and cycling to school - the recommended daily amount of exercise advised by the Public Health Agency.
The report also revealed that 2% of commuters cycle to and from work. A tenth (10%) said they normally walk to and from work.