For many, mornings will have recently become a little more hectic. The rush of a half-dozen taps running at once. The clamour of fast-moving footsteps on the stairs. The frenzy of cereal boxes being torn open. The confusion of everyone trying to exit the front door in unison.
Yes, the school term has started once again. Normal – or should that be abnormal? – service has resumed. But it doesn’t just impinge on our home lives. It affects almost everything outside them as well.
Rise in road traffic
Consider road traffic. The approaches to schools, which were relatively untrammelled during the summer months, are now heaving with vehicles each morning. Parents dropping their children off in cars. Buses parking up. Bikes getting chained to railings. And then, after a few hours of quiet, the commotion returns at the end of the school day. Everyone makes their way home.
There’s some argument as to whether this affects traffic more generally. American studies point to a rise in road delays in the month of September. British studies counter that these effects are often exaggerated. Delays rise in September, they say, because of people returning from their summer holidays, not just kids returning to class.
But there’s no doubting that it affects the traffic locally; which is to say, directly around the schools themselves. Any parent who has struggled to nudge their car a few metres closer to the gates, through a tangle of oversized people carriers, will be able to tell you that.
Some schools will be worse than others, in this regard. The Welsh Local Government Association’s advice on the subject points out that older schools often weren’t built to take large quantities of traffic:
“Contributing factors today include wider catchment areas resulting in pupils needing to travel further by bus, taxi and car; narrow access roads unsuitable for buses; a general increase in the numbers of cars; an increase in teachers and other staff travelling to work by car.”
Presumably, newer schools are made with these automotive pressures in mind. One modern-minded academy in Stoke-on-Trent has even constructed a 50-space car park for its traffic. It’s charging parents £45 a year for the privilege.
Alarming accident rate
This mostly matters for reasons of safety. Cars swarming around areas that are cluttered with children is a dangerous set-up. Indeed, a recent study from Axa Car Insurance discovered that there 557,200 vehicle collisions around schools in the six years from 2006 to 2011. 85,814 children were either injured or killed.
Hence why many parents welcomed the news of that academy building a car park, even if does involve a charge. ‘As parents we want what is best for our kids, and we don’t mind paying a little extra,’ one told the Daily Telegraph. ‘I’m very happy with what the school is doing.’
Would you be happy if your local school built one too? Or did something else to ease the disorder outside its gates? As you drop your children off this week, it’s worth thinking about.
For, despite its reputation, traffic isn’t a static thing. It rises and falls with the time of the day or with the quality of the season. We ought to be prepared for it.
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