Children are made vulnerable and unfit because being driven everywhere means they have no chance to exercise or learn survival skills, writes Gerald Haigh.
The common lot of children is to be taken by car whenever they go out and kept indoors the rest of the time. One third of primary children are driven to school. Six out of 10 of the cars that take them go straight back home afterwards. This urge towards protection, say some experts, is robbing children of the chance to become fit, streetwise and knowledgeable about their locality.
The irony is that we kill more than 200 children on the road every year and seriously injure nearly 6,000 more. The main cause of these accidents is bad driving by adults. Teachers ought to be concerned about this - and above reproach in their own driving, just as they try to be in other public areas of their lives. They also have to turn their attention to ways of keeping children from harm's way.
One of the leading safety organisations is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), which runs a number of road safety programmes, including S'cool to be Safe. This is aimed at seven to nine-year-olds and consists of a visit by a travelling theatre group who look at attitudes to safety and practical ways of keeping out of trouble through interactive role play.
Additionally, every local authority has a road safety officer, many of whom are very active in child pedestrian training - Oxfordshire County Council's Footsteps programme is a good example.
Road safety officers are also the people to consult about classroom materials, cycle training and safety equipment. Most of the mainstream school equipment suppliers, such as Hope Education, Novara and Galt Educational, have road safety games,jigsaws and playground layouts to raise awareness with young children.
Safety has also been a key concern of school minibus manufacturers in recent years. A steady drive by government and pressure groups means that vehicles now come with three-point seatbelts, strengthened seats and a range of other safety equipment.
Driver training has also come under the spotlight. ROSPA's programme is excellent; heads and governors should consider it for all their minibus drivers, not least because it demonstrates to parents that there is genuine commitment to the safety of their children.
LDV's popular school minibus sells largely on the strength of its list of safety features, which include bright yellow paintwork, height adjustable seatbelts and secure overhead stowage for bags and sports equipment. One feature that seems relatively insignificant until you experience a bus filled with children on a muggy day is a highly effective fan-boosted ventilation system that keeps the windows demisted and the air as fresh as possible.
Ford's Transit-based minibuses are also popular. At the moment, though, Ford is waiting for the launch of a new range this year.
The problem for heads and governors is that although their existing school minibus may be serviceable, they feel they should replace it with a newer, safer one, but that costs about pound;25,000.
u 'A Safer Journey to School' from the Transport 2000 Trust, Walkden House, 10 Melton St, London NW1 2EJ * For details of Oxfordshire's Footsteps scheme, call the council's Road Safety Group, tel 01865 815717
ROSPA stand PV310
Galt Educational stand C11
Hope Education stand EY1
Novara stand R40
LDV stand P70
Ford Motor Company stand E20