Helping students cycle safely

  • From encouraging cycling good practice, to hosting national bike events at schools, educational establishments can do their bit to inspire students to safely get on their bikes
  • Schools can play an important part in educating students by teaching road safety skills, as well as highlighting the risks associated with cycling
  • Cycling participation is on the increase among children, and can bring obvious physical and environmental benefits

The legacy of cycling’s golden summer at the 2012 London Olympics lives on, especially with our younger generation, who were inspired by the exploits of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy.

Over two million of us now regularly participate in cycling, more than those who play football – and there has been a big rise in the number of children getting on two wheels.

An investment in safer cycling facilities across the UK, including the £1bn plan for cycle routes across London, is encouraging more people than ever to either start cycling or get back on their bikes, boosted by initiatives such as The Times’s Cycling for Cities campaign.

However, more can still be done. Just 2% of primary school pupils cycle to school – despite the average primary school child living just 1.8 miles from school, and research by cycle charity Sustrans found that half of schoolchildren would like to cycle to school.

Experts say that to stay fit, children need at least one hour of moderate physical activity every day – but half of all UK seven-year-olds do not get that, with girls far less active than boys. Children who walk or cycle to school often arrive brighter and more ready to learn than those driven by car, and a US study showed a positive link between physical activity and performance in school tests.

Promoting the benefits of cycling

Events like The Big Pedal, which runs from 2-20 March, aims to inspire pupils, staff and parents to choose two wheels for their journeys over a three-week period. And Bike Week is another annual event, held in mid-June, to promote cycling in the UK. Both encourage the obvious physical benefits of cycling, as well as showing how the sport can promote confidence, independence and road craft skills.

According to Ben Merry, Programme Development Officer at Sustrans, The Big Pedal has a lasting effect on the way the school community travels to school. Last year 76% of schools who took part in The Big Pedal said that their pupils continued to cycle to school following the event.

Other cycling schemes are also getting more kids safely on their bikes. Currently, half of all children in England participate in Bikeability training before they leave primary school – which provides children with the skills they need to cycle on today’s roads.

Parental fears

But in many cases, it is parents’ fears that are holding back budding young cyclists – as pedalling on the UK’s roads is often perceived as dangerous.

Cycling casualties have risen in recent years, as the amount of people taking to their bikes has increased, and Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman is just one anxious parent who won’t let his eight-year-old daughter cycle on the road.

But although every casualty is one too many, there has been a reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured on our roads. Among child cyclists, there were 11% fewer casualties in 2013 compared to 2012, the lowest level since records began in 1979.

RoSPA, a safety charity, says that around a fifth of all cycling casualties still involve children, and cycling accidents increase as children grow older – with riders aged between 10 -15 being more at risk than any other age group.

Improving cycling safety in schools

For schools, there are many small things that can easily be implemented to encourage and promote cycling safety among students.

From encouraging adoption of the correct rules for cyclists – including the compulsory wearing of helmets and hi-visibility jackets – to educating students on the most common types of cycling accidents and risks, promoting proficiency in cycling doesn’t have to cost large amounts of money.

And with many schools also looking to reduce their environmental footprints, encouraging cycling to school should also be promoted as a means of reducing traffic congestion and pollution. Around 45% of all children currently travel to school by car, contributing to 29% of the traffic between 8am-9am.

So, although most schools may never produce an Olympic champion, supporting students to become better and safer cyclists will pay off with health and wellbeing benefits – as well as helping students develop independence and confidence – providing a lasting legacy for the promotion of pedal power.