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Open Access Research article

Understanding the drive to escort: a cross-sectional analysis examining parental attitudes towards children’s school travel and independent mobility

George Mammen1, Guy Faulkner1*, Ron Buliung2 and Jennifer Lay3

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto, 55 Harbord St, Toronto, ON, M5S 2W6, Canada

2 Department of Geography and Program in Planning, University of Toronto, 100 St.George St, Toronto, ON, M5S 2W6, Canada

3 Metrolinx, 20 Bay St. Suite 600, Toronto, ON, M5J 2W3, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:862  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-862

Published: 11 October 2012

Abstract

Background

The declining prevalence of Active School Transportation (AST) has been accompanied by a decrease in independent mobility internationally. The objective of this study was to compare family demographics and AST related perceptions of parents who let their children walk unescorted to/from school to those parents who escort (walk and drive) their children to/from school. By comparing these groups, insight was gained into how we may encourage greater AST and independent mobility in youth living in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Canada.

Methods

This study involved a cross-sectional design, using data from a self-reported questionnaire (n =1,016) that examined parental perceptions and attitudes regarding AST. A multinomial logistic regression analysis was used to explore the differences between households where children travelled independently to school or were escorted.

Results

Findings revealed that unescorted children were: significantly older, the families spoke predominantly English at home, more likely to live within one kilometer from school, and their parents agreed to a greater extent that they chose to reside in the current neighborhood in order for their child to walk to/from school. The parents of the escorted children worried significantly more about strangers and bullies approaching their child as well as the traffic volume around school.

Conclusions

From both a policy and research perspective, this study highlights the value of distinguishing between mode (i.e., walking or driving) and travel independence. For policy, our findings highlight the need for planning decisions about the siting of elementary schools to include considerations of the impact of catchment size on how children get to/from school. Given the importance of age, distance, and safety issues as significant correlates of independent mobility, research and practice should focus on the development and sustainability of non-infrastructure programs that alleviate parental safety concerns.

Keywords:
Independent mobility; Active school transportation; Unescorted/escorted children; Physical activity; School travel; Walking school bus