Our growing use of cars has a variety of environmental, social and health consequences. Some are highly visible and directly relevant to everyday life. For example, accident statistics show that our roads are dangerous, while traffic congestion has adverse effects on our health and well-being. Other impacts are less immediately obvious but no less important. For example, the gases and chemicals released by engines make a large contribution to global warming and air pollution.
The more we use cars, the more the air becomes polluted. Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds and particulates, all of which are harmful to health when released into the atmosphere. Soot particles cause lung damage, especially when they contain chemicals such as benzine.
Increasing amounts of urban traffic – partly caused by greater distances between home and places of work – have created fear of traffic. Because people feel less vulnerable driving compared with walking or cycling, more and more trips are being made by car. The resulting lack of exercise can cause problems for health and overall fitness. Government statistics demonstrate that:
Annual hospital admissions rates for asthma are increasing in children aged under 5
The weekly incidence rate for asthma related GP consultations is one per 1,000 population in the 1-4 year olds
In slow moving traffic, pollution levels are higher inside cars than outside
Cycling or walking briskly for half an hour a day can halve the risk of heart disease
Transport and Early Years
Young children today have far less freedom than their parents had at the same age. Fear of traffic and stranger danger, combined with the overall increase in general car use and ownership, are leading to an increasing number of parents taking their children to the centre or nursery in the car. This has a number of consequences for children, staff and those living close to the centre.
Walking and cycling are excellent forms of physical activity and the journey to the centre can make an important contribution to increasing these activity levels. Patterns of activity are set in early childhood, so early lack of exercise can lead to a higher risk of future obesity, high blood pressure, poor psychological well-being and coronary heart disease. Walking and cycling can help children to gain confidence and make friends, helping both to increase independence and traffic sense. Current research also suggests that more active children are more alert and focused and achieve better academic results.
Each centre is different, with its own local problems and possible solutions. All local authorities have Local Transport Plan funding for Safe Routes to Schools, road safety training and education campaigns. There will also be a local travel advisor who can offer help and guidance. Contact the local authority and ask for help and assistance in developing a travel plan.
Refer to our Resources & Links for a downloadable Rupert Bear travel colouring sheet.