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Is Your Child's School Commute Safe?

By , Hillary Copsey
Walking to school can be a great way for kids to get some exercise and socialize with friends out in the fresh air. It helps get their heads straight for the school day and allows them to decompress on the way home after long hours behind a desk.
But for parents, it's hard to know when a child is old enough to walk alone safely.
The school district in which I live only offers busing for students who live more than two miles from school. My soon-to-be kindergartener is very active--he plays tee ball and has run kids' races--but I'm not sure he'd be able to walk four miles daily. I'm also fairly certain I'm not willing to ask him to, considering the lack of sidewalks in our neighborhood and on the couple of larger roads he would have to cross to get to school. For us, age 5 is too young. But growing up in a very small town, I had friends who lived on the same street as our elementary school who, even as kindergarteners, made the short walk home alone every day along the tree-shaded sidewalks. Every situation is different.
In a 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics study of students age 6 to 16, it was found that the use of ''active transportation'' (walking or biking) peaked around age 10. That sounds about right to me. In late elementary school, students are old enough to know and follow basic traffic laws and safety rules. They are also young enough to not yet need to be ferried regularly to and from extracurricular activities such as sports practices or music lessons.
When you're deciding if your child can walk alone to school, consider his ability to follow directions and solve problems--even when no one is watching. Will he know what to do if his normal route is blocked? Does he always, always remember to look both ways before he crosses the street? Your child's teacher and/or doctor might help you determine this. You also might check to see what other parents are allowing their same-age children to do. Despite the opportunity for horseplay, students walking in a group can be safer since the school is more likely to post crossing guards on well-traveled paths.
Walk to School Day, a one-day event to raise awareness for the need for walkable communities, is Oct. 3, 2012. The event was first organized in 1997 by the Partnership for a Walkable America and became an international campaign in 2000. Its website,, offers a comprehensive list of safety tips for children and parents planning walking routes to school.
The organization encourages you to look for routes where crossing guards are posted, find paths that minimize the number of times a child needs to cross a road, and keep students on lightly traveled roads, ideally on a sidewalk. Check to make sure there aren't loose dogs or other hazards on the route. Your local police department can help you find information about criminal activity in an area, as well as offer general safety tips and advice specific to your area.
I would also encourage you to keep an eye on your local news. Part of the reason I'm uncomfortable with my child walking to school until he's older is because, in the eight years we've lived here, at least half a dozen students have been clipped by car mirrors or even fatally hit while walking to school or waiting for a bus on dark, sidewalk-less streets. Working at our local newspaper, I've had to report on these accidents. Admittedly, it's made me a bit wary to send my kid off hiking through our streets. But I'd rather know about these accidents than assume my sprawling suburban city is just like the tiny town in which I was raised.
If your child is walking to school--especially when the mornings are dark--make sure he or she is wearing light-colored, reflective clothing. Flashing backpack lights also aren't a bad idea. And above all, teach your kids basic safety rules so that they'll know what to do when you're not there to help them navigate the streets and sidewalks.
How do your kids get to school? If they walk, are you concerned about letting them go by themselves?

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KUKAANI1 1/3/2018
My daughter is out of school now but until she was old enough to drive, I gave her a ride to and from school every day. Her elementary school was only 2 miles from our house but the only way to get there is driving on a busy one lane rural road that really doesn't have much a bike lane. Her high school was 9.5 miles from our house. I say this exact number because had we lived 10 miles from the school, they would have had to provide free bus service.

When I was a kid, starting in first grade, my twin brother and I walked to school everyday. There was always a large group of kids from the surrounding streets that would walk together so it was fairly safe. The only time I can think of where we were lacking in good judgement was when me and some of my friends talked my brother into climbing over a barb wire fence to get something for us on the other side. Climbing on the fence wasn't too bad for my brother, the part that was stupid was that there was a bull on the other side of the fence. I don't think I've ever seen my brother move so fast. Report
5-years old is just too young to cross dangerous intersections or travel unescorted through a world of dangerous predators. When is a child is old enough to walk alone safely--never. Even in their teens, it would be wise to travel in packs. In my former home area a high school teacher hid along a country lane where a pretty farm girl walked from bus to home and raped and killed her. Just walking the same route, the same time, 5-days-a week makes anyone highly vulnerable, especially the young; routine is a predator's best friend. It is not the same kid-friendly world that you grew up in. I lived in the country and had to walk a long distance to the bus stop but even back in the relatively safe 1950's, we always traveled in a pack of cousins. If your schedule doesn't allow you to escort your child to school, pair him/her up with a trustworthy older child or another parent in the neighborhood, even if you have to pay them for their trouble and have them pick up your child at the door. Report
The world has changed since I was in school. My walks were often the best part of my day (I wasn't fond of school...) because I could look at things, wander the neighborhood, tell stories--it was great.

I'm sorry so many kids miss that free time--not to mention the exercise! Report
I still think kids nowadays are coddled too much. Most of the time they can and should walk to school when it is safe and prudent to do so. Report
My daughter would have to cross a major highway to get to her school by bike or walking, where there is no crosswalk, sidewalk, or anything, and I'm just not comfortable with that (she is 9). When the weather is nice we have been known to ride our bikes together to school - in the late spring when it's no longer dark in the morning. Other than that, there is a bus that stops in front of our house, but it generally works out well to just drop her off at school on my way to work. Report
A major concern for me that no one has mentioned yet is the possibility of abduction. I live near Westminster, CO where 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was abducted on her way to the spot where she would meet with a group of friends to walk to school. She was brutally murdered. Her killer is still at large. Report
I lived in a smaill town, all the kids walked to and from school. It was a 5 minute bike ride, assuming I took my time with my bike. In the city, my husband used to walk to and from school at age 5, walk across the busy intersection by himself all the time. I think that was way too young in the city. Report
Times and circumstances have certainly changed. When I was 6, going to school for the first time, I walked. It was a little less than 3/4-mile trip and about 5 blocks all through mostly residential neighborhood. (The only drivers we had to worry about ... were other parents driving to the school or neighbors going to work.)

When my DS and DDa started school, their walk would have been nearly 1-3/4 miles and have involved crossing multiple major streets and an expressway. We were "too close" for school buses and public transport to that area was horrible, so needless to say I ~had~ to drive them.

My DDb was hit in her early teens by a careless parent dropping off their own child, something I hear far too often that would make me more worried about that last block to get to school than the rest of the walk had I little ones. Report
I'm so glad that several people have mentioned the "walking bus" idea. It doesn't work in every area, since you really need a walkable route, but its such a great idea! Report
My youngest child is 7. We live in an area that is "too close" to qualify for bussing, which is just under 2 miles. We lack sidewalks, but have plenty of careless drivers who just got their licences to go to the community college we have to pass. It's just not safe for either of us.

My 17 year old son does walk to and from his bus stop each day, which is about 1 mile away. He is capable of that, and responsible enough to do it. Report
My first reaction to this blog's headline was, "how can it NOT be safe, when school busses are now required to stop at every. single. house. ... even if they are-- literally-- less than 200 ft apart! It's ridiculous.

On my road, children who live directly across the street from each other can't get on the bus together. One side has to wait for the bus driver to finish the road, turn around, and come back to pick up the kids on the other side.

When I was 5 (wayyy back in the dangers of the mid-70's), I walked 1/4 mile to/from my small town busstop, out of site of my mom. (Once or twice the bus dropped me off 150 feet from the house when the weather was especially bad.) In preparation, before the school year started, by dad had me walk to school (1 mile), while he rode his bike on the other side of the street. I rode back home with him, but the whole point was to be sure I knew where I was going and wasn't afraid.

The indulgence of having busses stop every 40 ft, or 400 ft, is crazy lazy, wastes fuel and bussing dollars, and indulges the media-induced fears we have of our own neighbors.

We both walk everyday. We live 1/2 mile from school. 2 miles for me daily, and 1 mile for him. I walk with him because there are no sidewalks, and there is a major street to cross. But all in all we enjoy it. We get our exercise, and we get in some quality talk time before and after school. Next year I will have to drive him to school. He will not ride the bus. To much trouble on the bus.
For those who have a safe route but are uncomfortable about safety:
Google "walking school bus" and see about starting one. Different parents can take turns supervising a group from the neighborhood. Report
As you point out, every situation is different, but in my neighborhood we have a bunch of "walking bus" groups. Groups of kids walking to school, accompanied by one or more adults. The kids get some social time (not unlike riding an actual bus), parents can rotate "bus" duty, and everyone gets in a walk. Report
I would love to walk my kindergartener to and from school, pushing the 2 year old in stroller. But there aren't sidewalks the whole way, there is a major highway, there is high grass and snakes, loose dogs, and other obstacles.
I don't think it is safe for me, much less her by herself. Report
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