It's National Walk to School Day. So Why Do So Few Kids Do It?

Public Domain. UNC Highway Safety Research Center

A lot of walking activists are upset about a tweet from the Vice Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board on National Walk To School Day:

It seems straightforward, but is a microcosm of so many of our discussions about pedestrian and cyclist safety. Phila Bikes is cranky because they consider this victim blaming, and show many photos of how difficult it actually is to use a crosswalk or a sidewalk in their city:

Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog writes:

The tweet at the top of this post from the National Transportation Safety Board is a good example. Here we have a federal safety agency putting the onus for children’s well-being in traffic on... children. There was no tweet from NTSB warning drivers to slow down and be extra careful...

The fact is, even children who follow the rules are not free from risk, because drivers travel at dangerous speeds and fail to yield the right of way when they should. But for some reason we hold children to awfully high standards while tacitly absolving all kinds of dangerous driving behavior.

It doesn’t help when official powers contribute to this false equivalence, implying that the licensed adult driver with the capacity to kill and the vulnerable child trying to get to school are equally responsible for preventing traffic injuries and deaths. It’s a sick part of our culture, and it helps explain why walking to school has become so rare.

This is perhaps all a bit of an over-reaction to the Vice-Chair's tweet, there is nothing wrong with telling kids to look both ways before they cross the street. But let's spread the responsibility around a bit; a main reason that parents don't let their kids walk to school is that they will likely be squished by a driver in a big SUV. Perhaps that is where we should start.