Should Kids Only Walk To School With An Adult?

Following the death of a six year old girl in Gisborne in 2017, a New Zealand coroner has advised against allowing children to walk to school without adult supervision.

Carla Neems was just a few weeks away from her seventh birthday when, after scootering 450 metres home from school (and most of the way with older children), she tragically walked into the path of a rubbish truck which was momentarily parked halfway across her home’s driveway.

As well as recommending better signage and the possibility of proximity alarms for rubbish trucks, the coroner said that there was parental responsibility to ensure that Carla was accompanied from the school by an adult.

“I do not accept that it was acceptable for Carla to go to and from school in the care of her older siblings – and part of the way home alone. The siblings were too young to be vested with that responsibility. Sadly the confidence that Mr and Mrs Neems had about Carla’s road safety was misplaced and flies in the face of what happened,” Coroner Tim Scott, said.

According to Safekids Aotearoa, more than five child pedestrians are killed each year, more than 100 are hospitalised, and children aged five to nine years old are most at risk.

The coroner’s words have been widely condemned as being harsh, following what many view as a tragic accident.

Should we be walking our kids to and from school?

New Zealand law states that it is illegal to leave a child alone under the age of 14 years without reasonable provision for their care. However, the term “reasonable provision” leaves a lot to parent’s interpretation and individual circumstances – for example, the maturity level of the child and the length of time without supervision. Deciding at what age a child should be safe to walk to school would need to take into account the child’s understanding of road safety, the distance to school, as well as traffic levels, etc.

So should we be escorting our kids every step to and from school until they’re 14? Or do we just have to accept that we can’t always control our child’s surroundings – we can only provide them with guidance and the knowledge required to make safer decisions?

Tips for child pedestrian safety

  • Plan the safest route possible and walk through it with your child several times.
  • If there is a footpath, use it.
  • Kids should walk as far away from the roadside as possible.
  • If there is no path, walk on the grass verge and face oncoming traffic.
  • Avoid distractions such as smartphones and headphones.
  • Beware of cars entering and exiting driveways.
  • It is harder for drivers of large vehicles to see small children so keep well away.
  • When crossing the road, choose to use a pedestrian crossing. Always wait to ensure that cars have stopped before entering the pedestrian crossing.
  • If there is no designated crossing, stand one step away from the edge of the road, look in all directions for traffic and listen. When the road is clear, walk briskly across, checking for traffic.
  • Avoid crossing between parked cars but if there is no choice always choose cars without drivers in them and stand at the front of the car by the headlight nearest the road. Look and listen for traffic. When the road is clear, cross briskly, looking each way for traffic.

What are your thoughts on kids walking to and from school? Or scootering, riding bikes, taking public transport on their own or with siblings or older kids?

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her world julieWritten by Julie Scanlon

Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire. 

Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”

6 Comments

  1. SarahBlair 14/08/2019 at 4:38 pm

    I take my kids to school, even the teenagers, 16 & 18, they get dropped off at the gate by mum. If I am in a hurry I wiil drop my smaller kids (5 & 7) at the gate and watch them as they walk in but only if I can get a park outside the school and they dont have to cross any driveways otherwise I will get out and walk them to class. If I didnt see them walk into school I would probably worry about them all day!

  2. Bevik1971 14/08/2019 at 9:44 am

    My personal opinion is that kids shouldn’t walk to school or back on their own until over the age of about 15 (my personal opinion, maybe not everyone elses!). My 6 year old only walks with myself or her Dad or goes in the car and is taken up to school and the same on the way home. We may be a bit overboard with safety etc but I would much rather be that way than have something terrible happen, like the poor wee sole in Gisborne and her family 🙁

  3. Jen_Wiig 13/08/2019 at 7:13 pm

    So my eldest walks and scooters to school with his friends each day but he has only done so since intermediate but this has been more about my own paranoia than anything I think… We live by incredibly busy roads and train stations and also couple years ago a boy his age was taken and assaulted before ebeibg dropped off a few hours later and the guy has never been found so it warrants enough for me to be like yes you can walk or Scotter but only if your with your mates.. There’s a group of 6 of them.
    My next eldest who is about to start intermediate will be the same and although his current school 10mins walk away I just don’t feel comfortable with him walking alone but again this also has to do with personal preference aka paranoid and also he is ASD and gets very very easily distracted and often wanders around in imaginary land so makes for an easy target or also putting himself into dangerous situations by mistake by crossing main road without paying attention even though he is “road trained”
    I do often see very little ones walking to his school daily and I do worry a little as they are just so hard to see but I definitely don’t judge those parents as they know their kids best and know their limits. The case with that little girl being hit I truly believe was a horrible accident and couldn’t be predicted and I feel it was wrong for the coroner to make the statement they did… I bet anything that girl and siblings had been doing that daily for at least 2 years and just that fateful day an awful accident happened… But it could’ve just as easily been an older child too as those trucks have massive blindspots regardless of child or adult.

  4. Mands1980 13/08/2019 at 8:36 am

    We live rural so it’s not even a choice for our kids but after school I see young children walking home by themselves some look about 6 years old in town. I wouldn’t let my kids walk by themselves even if I lived in town as anything could happen. I have seen so many kids running across roads it’s lucky there are not more accidents. Kids can loose concentration so fast and I would never forgive myself if anything happened to my children doing this.

  5. Shorrty4life1 12/08/2019 at 9:20 pm

    Great read. This is always a huge debate with parents. I myself prefer to drive and walk my kids into school to know they are safe and out of harms way. I see children very young walking and scootering to school alone and actually wonder where there parents are and worry for their safety.

  6. Micht 06/08/2019 at 2:16 pm

    I truly believe( as old school as i may sound) that parents should escort their kids to and from school always! My parents did that with my brother and i and for them as time consuming as it was, they felt more at peace doing that than having to stress about the unknown dangers that may come… as for ages of supervision, its great that the law does not allow for parents to leave kids unattended up to age 14…and believe strongly that the same should be so for the trips to school and back… it is within reason i believe to match up the ages for supervision on both fronts cos the level of maturity must no doubt have been considered. Another thing that really worries be is kids on scooters and bikes as well as on foot, metres ahead of parents with no regard to driveways they cross over… we reverse out our drive and have to be so careful we dont pull out in front off or run over anyone crossing it… more awareness needs to be there…and kids are kids they dont worry about the dangers we as adults know about…which is why our role in their lives is important..

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