As the UK School Crossing Patrol (SCP) service celebrates its Platinum Jubilee, road casualty statistics and research into drivers’ attitudes and behaviours show that more must be done to keep children safe on the roads.
What is the School Crossing Patrol service?
The ‘lollipop’ men and women of the UK School Crossing Patrol service, or SCP, have helped children cross busy or dangerous roads on their walk to school for 70 years. According to national road safety organisation, Road Safety GB, the first known patrol was a school caretaker called Mary Hunt, who was appointed by Bath City Council in September 1937 to help the school’s pupils cross the road. She worked through the challenges of the Second World War, moving with the school to its new premises after it was destroyed by bombing in 1942.
In the late 1940s, it was common for children to play on the streets and most children (around 90%) walked to school unaccompanied. Children were told to ask an adult to help them cross busy roads, but two London-based road safety officers were concerned about the road safety risk to pedestrian children from increasing amounts of traffic on the roads and persuaded their councils to employ ‘active retired gentlemen’ as official ‘traffic wardens’, dressed in the white coats and caps that were worn by park keepers at that time. As more wardens were appointed in other London Boroughs, the Metropolitan Police took over responsibility for the service, which was officially created in 1953 by the School Crossing Patrol Act.
The official patrols have continued to see children safely across the road, stopping traffic with their ‘lollipop’ stop sign for 70 years. Similar community child safety schemes also operate in various places across the nation. They remind us that children are vulnerable in and around traffic, and that their safety on the roads is paramount, and must be prioritised over the needs or convenience of drivers.
How many children are killed or seriously injured in Britain?
Road safety charity, Brake has reported that road casualty data reveals that the equivalent of a whole class of young children are killed or seriously injured on British roads every 19 days. Ten children aged seven or younger are killed or seriously injured on British roads every week.
In 2021, a total of 512 children aged seven or younger were killed or seriously injured on the roads, equivalent to one young child every 17 hours. Of those, six children died and 159 were seriously injured whilst travelling as passengers in cars.
Children’s safety on the roads - what do their parents think and do?
A road safety survey commissioned by Brake in April 2023 asked 2,030 parents and carers of children aged from two to 11 about their children’s journeys, to learn more about their concerns for their children’s road safety and their own behaviour as parents, drivers and road users.
When asked about where they live, most (84%) respondents to the survey said there were safe footpaths and pavements for them to use, 59% said there were safe cycle paths, and 73% said there were safe places to cross the road, but nearly a third (31%) believed traffic does not move at safe speeds on the roads where they live.
For short journeys, 46% of parents and carers said they walk every day and 80% made short journeys on foot three or more days a week. 37% use the car daily and 6% cycle for short journeys every day, whereas 30% cycle three or more days a week.
Parents and carers were asked about their routines and behaviours when making journeys with their children. 77% said their children usually or always hold their hand when walking near roads, and 80% when crossing roads, although this reduced to 66% for those with 9-11 year old children. Nearly half (47%) said their child thinks they are too old to hold hands and 32% said their child refuses to hold their hand when walking near a road. 51% of parents thought children over nine years old are able to cross a road without holding an adult’s hand.
82% of parents said their child usually or always crosses the road at safe crossing places, such as zebra crossings or traffic lights where they are available. 85% said they wait for the green crossing signal before crossing the road.
Half (50%) said they would like their child to be more independent in walking to school, and 74% thought children over the age of nine are to walk to school on their own or with friends. Two thirds (66%) of parents worried that their child may be hit by a vehicle when travelling to school.
The survey revealed that parents’ awareness and opinions about road safety sometimes conflicted with their own road safety short cuts whilst walking or driving with or around children.
- 70% thought that it is dangerous to park on the pavement, but 37% sometimes or often park on the pavement.
- 31% said it was acceptable for drivers to stop on double yellow lines or zig zag lines outside school.
- 85% agreed that everyone should wear a helmet when cycling.
- 90% ensured everyone in the car was wearing a seat belt before every car journey.
- Parents and carers admitted that they crossed roads between parked vehicles sometimes (35%) or often (14%).
- 7% crossed the road while using a phone.
- 9% admitted often driving faster than the speed limit.
- 7% admitted driving the morning after drinking alcohol.
The law says that children who are passengers in cars must use approved child seats until they are 12 years old or 135 cm tall, whichever comes first. However, when the survey asked parents when a child is able travel in a car without sitting in a child seat, nearly one third said this would be between the ages of two and eight. Nearly one third (30%) of parents thought it was acceptable for their child not to sit in a car seat on very short journeys and 14% said their child rarely or never used a child seat when travelling by car.
Yet, when asked who should take the most responsibility for teaching children about road safety, 83% of respondents ranked parents in first or second place, followed by educators.
Working together to reduce RTA injuries to children
Road traffic accidents (RTA) which result in death or serious injury to a child have a devastating impact on the child’s family, friends and wider community. Where the child survives, they will carry the physical and psychological effects of that accident, such as physical and neurological disability from brain injury or major trauma, for the rest of their life as it impairs their ability to learn, work, communicate and socialise, and live independently.
As we acknowledge and celebrate 70 years of service by the dedicated ‘lollipop’ ladies and men of the SCP in helping children stay safe on the road, let their efforts remind us that as drivers, as well as parents, educators, role-models for our children, we all have a part to play in children’s road safety.