Eight out of 10 children driven to school by their parents on the "school run" would rather walk, the conference was told.
Research by John Barker of Brunel University shows that most children feel their freedom is limited by the morning car journey, would rather spend time walking to school with their friends and are conscious that the run is adding to congestion and pollution.
Mr Barker, a research officer at Brunel, interviewed more than 600 children aged between seven and 11 in the heartlands of the Volvo-owning classes, the affluent market towns and commuter villages of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, such as Chesham, High Wycombe, Marlow and Slough. (Buckinghamshire has the highest density of car ownership in Britain). He found soaring numbers involved in the school run: 45 per cent of children were taken by car, compared with 55 per cent who walked. The most recent government figures, for 1998, showed 38 per cent were taken by car, compared with only 10 per cent in 1970.
Yet 80 per cent of the car-borne youngsters would rather go on foot, he found.
"They said they would prefer to walk to school if they had the choice," he said. "They gave several different reasons. They could have time by themselves, they could have time to meet and be with their friends, and some mentioned the environmental questions of adding to pollution and congestion."
Mr Barker said parents were aware that children would prefer to walk, but gave risks from increased traffic and "stranger danger" as reasons for insisting on the car. He said he thought parents should involve the children in the decision on school transport.
"There are a lot of new innovative ways for children to get to school," he said. "There is the 'walking bus', where parents drop their children off at a designated meeting point and they are then walked to school together by a supervisory adult, or there is the 'cycling bus' where they can go supervised together on their bikes.
"I don't want to be anti-car, and children on the whole are not anti-car ... But they don't have as many freedoms as they used to, especially with the school run, and parents should discuss with them these new school transport ideas."
Mr Barker is extending his research next year to look at London, where car ownership is much lower on average.Reuse content