“Why do we have to wait until a child is killed before we act?” says Brake, as the charity calls for 20mph speed limits around schools

  • 48 children died on UK roads in 2022 – excess speed is a factor in 25% of fatal crashes
  • A crash at 30mph has twice the amount of kinetic energy as a crash at 20mph – reducing speed saves lives
  • 64% of parents say their school doesn’t have 20mph speed limits on all roads near school
  • Parents say they don’t walk their child to school because roads are too busy (36%) and traffic is too fast (25%)
  • Today more than 110,000 children from more than 720 schools across the UK are taking part in Brake’s Kids Walk, supported by esure, on Wednesday 14 June 2023 – photo and filming opportunities available (see notes)
  • 17 children killed or injured on South West roads every week
  • Devon has greatest number of child road casualties in the region – on average 143 children are killed or injured each year

Brake, the road safety charity, is calling for 20mph speed limits to be implemented around all schools in the UK, as parents report roads aren’t safe for their children to walk to school.

According to new research published by Brake, parents and carers across the country say they don’t walk their children to school every day because roads are too busy (36%) and cars go too fast (25%). Compounding this, nearly two-thirds (64%) of parents say their school doesn’t have 20mph speed limits on all surrounding roads.

More than 110,000 children (aged 4-11) from more than 720 schools and nurseries are taking part in Brake’s Kids Walk today (Wednesday 14 June 2023), calling for their right to make safe and healthy journeys without fear or threat from traffic.

To coincide with the launch of the walk, Brake has highlighted the true extent of child casualties on South West roads (see Table 1).

Latest Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that 792 children under the age of 16 were killed or injured on South West roads in 2021; an average taken from the last five years gives a figure of 908. This means that, on average, 17 children die or suffer injuries as a result of road crashes every single week.

This is also an increase on the 2020 number of child road casualties, which may reflect an increase in road traffic following the lifting of travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

Across the region, the greatest number of casualties in 2021 occurred in Devon (excluding Plymouth and Torbay), which recorded 125 children killed or injured. Devon has the greatest number of child casualties in the region, with an average of 143 children killed or injured on the roads each year between 2017 and 2021.

Most local authorities in the South West saw a rise in child road casualties in 2021. North Somerset saw the biggest percentage reduction (26%) in the number of child casualties on its roads in 2021, compared with 2020 figures. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, and Gloucestershire also saw a reduction in road deaths (17% and 13% respectively).

Isles of Scilly recorded no child casualties for the third year in a row, with Bath and North East Somerset recording the second lowest (11). By comparison, Devon (excluding Plymouth and Torbay) and Cornwall recorded more than 100 child deaths or injuries on roads in 2021, with a rise in the number of casualties in both areas.

Brake has also revealed the extent of child casualties across the rest of the UK. Latest official figures show that 11,580 children aged 15 or under were killed or injured on roads in the UK in 2021; an average taken from the last five years gives a figure of 13,503 (Table 2).

At Dropmore Infant School in Buckinghamshire, parents have reported passing traffic ripping off a car door when they dropped their children off at school; meanwhile children have to walk on roads exposed to speeding traffic because there are no pavements.

Dropmore sits at a T-junction in Littleworth, a village sandwiched between Slough and junction 2 of the M40. The speed limit on nearby roads is 60mph, and although it reduces to 30mph outside the school, there are areas with no pavement, no crossing patrol, and very few designated parking spaces. A local Community Speedwatch group has recorded cars speeding past the school at an average of 38mph, with the highest speed recorded in front of the school being 54mph. 

Headteacher Gitta Streete has been campaigning for the speed limit to be reduced to 20mph for many years. “What we often hear back is that because no one has been seriously hurt or killed on that road, there is no need to make any changes,” she says.

“One parent had their car door taken off by a passing car,” Streete continues. “That could easily have been a child, parent or carer being hit. What we need is a proper, phased speed reduction system: a reduction to 20mph outside the school and safe areas for everyone to walk along and cross the road. Thankfully, no one has been hurt yet, but road safety measures should not be solely left to the school to enact.”

Dropmore Infant School has a platinum-level accreditation for road safety from the Modeshift STARS programme [4], and as part of its tireless campaigning to make roads near the school safer, the school has signed up to take part in Brake’s Kids Walk – an annual schools walk coordinated by road safety charity Brake, and sponsored by esure. 

The 110,000 schoolchildren taking part in Brake’s Kids Walk will complete a short, supervised walk around their schools and/or communities. They will carry banners and posters, provided by Brake, to help raise awareness of the five things they need to help keep them safe near roads: slower traffic, cleaner traffic, better footpaths, better cycle paths, and safe places to cross.

Lucy Straker, campaigns manager at Brake, says: “Sadly, we know that Dropmore’s situation is being replicated across the country. We speak to lots of schools where teachers are doing everything they can to make the roads near their school safe, but ultimately they need support from their local council and decision-makers. Why do we have to wait until a child is killed before we act?

“We know that excess speed is a factor in about a quarter of fatal crashes [5], and the physics is pretty straightforward: the faster a vehicle is travelling, the harder it hits and the greater the impact. A crash at 30mph has twice the amount of kinetic energy as a crash at 20mph. Reducing speed saves lives.

“As schools up and down the country take part in Brake’s Kids Walk to shout out for safe places to walk, with slow traffic, we’re calling for roads around every school to have 20mph speed limits – and other measures to effectively reduce traffic speed – so children and their families can travel safely to and from school every day.”

Schools taking part in Brake’s Kids Walk can run special road-safety-themed assemblies, lessons and fun activities, using free resources from Brake. Brake has also provided schools with a Kid’s manifesto for safe and healthy journeys that they can use to help them ask local or national decision-makers to make the roads around their school 20mph – Brake’s research supports this call, with many parents clearly worried about the speed of traffic near their children’s school.

David McMillan, CEO of esure, said: “We are delighted to continue our partnership with Brake’s Kids Walk for the third year running and to raise awareness of the importance of safer roads and cleaner air for schoolchildren across the UK.”

Resources are available to any parent, carer or teacher to download for free at www.brake.org.uk/kidswalk. The event can also be used to fundraise for Brake, which supports families who have lost loved ones in road crashes.

Brake, the road safety charity, has been organising walking events for schoolchildren at a national level for more than 15 years. The charity is also behind Road Safety Week – the UK’s biggest road safety campaign each November.

Brake’s Kids Walk 2023 is sponsored by esure.

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