This is not fine: RSA approach to safety at school gates is misguided

— Car-using parents should also answer: Is getting to and from the school gate with my car the most important thing?

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Handing out high-vis to school children each year might at best be seen as some kind of short-term strategy, but, while other countries show there is a different way, successive Governments aren’t doing much else and that’s a problem.

The Road Safety Authority yesterday published another one of it’s child-blaming communications output:

It’s not so much the tweet’s content but the press release it links to. Maybe overall the worst part is a long quote from Moyagh Murdock, Chief Executive of the Road Safety Authority, who said:

“With children returning to school over the coming days, road users need to be extra vigilant. In addition to the inevitable increased traffic levels, motorists and other road users should be conscious of children walking and cycling to and from school. Drivers need to pay attention to their speed, particularly in urban areas. 
Congestion at the school gates is another particularly serious problem, with parents often double parking, or parking on yellow lines to drop their children off. The result is incredibly dangerous: small children weaving in and out of parked and moving cars at the school gate, many of whom are too small to be seen by drivers pulling in and out. Therefore, we are encouraging parents and teachers to be as proactive as possible when it comes to road safety. Parents can ensure their children are wearing high-visibility vests and when cycling make sure they are wearing a safety helmet and that their bikes should are properly equipped with bell, lights and reflective strips. Teachers can do their bit by educating children in road safety best practice at an early age.”

The reality outside many urban schools is that the bull in the China shop is more apparent:

Where there’s a bit more space many parents also park on footpaths or cycle tracks or even pedestrian crossings. But, there’s worse, this video shows the reality of what Irish school children cycling to school have to put up with and no amount of high-vis will fix this:

But Murdock says that the RSA are “encouraging parents and teachers to be as proactive as possible when it comes to road safety”… so, some solid safety advice aimed at those causing danger? Campaigning for a lower speed limit and physical changes?

No. To the RSA being as “proactive as possible” means, in Murdock‘s words: “Parents can ensure their children are wearing high-visibility vests and when cycling make sure they are wearing a safety helmet and that their bikes should are properly equipped with bell, lights and reflective strips. Teachers can do their bit by educating children in road safety best practice at an early age.”

Sure, as you can see in the full text of her quote above, Murdock also mentions speeding and (vaguely and limitedly) mentions how parents are illegally parking outside schools. But, nevertheless, what comes after being as “proactive as possible” is aimed at what parents can do with their children or get their children to wear.

That’s clear-cut victim blaming. And if anybody can’t get their heads around the idea of victim-blaming, it’s at very least focusing on children nearly alone when adults are the source of danger.

Meanwhile, even the UK has started restricting car use around schools. An example of the predictable backlash is shown in a fantastically honest headline in the UK’s Metro newspaper: “Parents’ anger at children being made to walk an extra few yards to school“.

Such restrictions being rolled out in a number of locations across the UK is added to slightly older measures in the UK to stop motorists from idling around schools for localised air pollution reasons. Do Irish parents think their cars are not a pollution or safety risks to children? What about inactivity? Or climate emissions?

The solution at many new or refurbished schools in Ireland is bigger, more elaborate parking and pick up areas. This eats into what could be used as green or play space around schools. This is the wrong approach, at least in urban and suburbs schools.

This fantastic chart from consultants Copenhagenize.eu shows the classic workplace hazards pyramid on the left and those principles applied to road safety on the right:

Just focusing on less-effective measures is like recycling your waste but not paying much attention to waste reduction. And, indeed, waste reduction has been set at a higher level in policy for decades but recycling has wrongly been the main focus.

Similar principles as outlined in the hazards pyramid are embedded in Dutch road safety, but that might sound far fetched for Ireland… The thing here is the tweeter of the above image might be thinking like most people that car elimination / reduction isn’t possible generally but even the UK are showing it is possible outside the school gates.

A typical response is that you are “just moving the problem elsewhere”, but generally isn’t borne out in the UK or elsewhere. Even dispersing and watering down the focused issue of parents with cars at school gates is a help and the general hope will be that some start to think walking or cycling might be a better idea.

At the end of the day, even if restrictions on cars happens outside all schools, the Government also needs to take steps to make walking and cycling to schools both safer and more attractive. That means proper segregated cycle routes, and even safer walking routes — with measures needed including new and safer crossings, streets and roads re-engineered to slow motorists and give pedestrians priority at side streets, enforcement and bollards stopping footpath car parking, and, in some cases, footpaths where there are none.

The Government is failing children and future generations for not being brave and acting. But maybe many parents also need to ask themselves do they care about road safety, air pollution, inactivity among children, or carbon emissions?

Some might try to convince themselves that one or two of those things have little to do with their own car use but it takes a special type of having your head in the sand to write off all four.

There’s also a different between writing off all four and overriding them in your mind because you think current conditions aren’t safe. But if you are thinking like that you should be proactive in not just supporting change proposed but looking for it. There’s also little stopping you in most cases from parking up a short distance from the school and walking a few hundred metres.

Everybody — from parents and teachers to boards of managements and politicians to local government, the Minister for Transport and the Road Safety Authority — need to be as proactive as possible in looking for change. Even if it annoys some people that they might have to slow down or not be able to drive within a metre of the school gates.

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you Cian. Good arguments well presented! On emailed version received at 14.11 this afternoon, images from Twitter weren’t showing – usually not a problem but would help with Copenhagenize reference in this piece.

  2. Great article Cian.In a nutshell cars are parking illegally and endangering children who are too small to be seen among the cars and suvs so give the children hi-vis.Dont inconvenience the cars whatever you do.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: