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Walking children from school simple and safe

Walking children home from school a simple but effective injury prevention measure

ACC Chief Executive Garry Wilson hopes that momentum from the 708 primary schools and their communities taking part in tomorrow’s Walk Me Home Day will spur caregivers to regularly walk their children home from school.

The Accident Compensation Corporation has sponsored ACC Walk Me Home Day on 18 October, the first day of this year’s national child safety week, Kidsafe Week.

Mr Wilson says ACC’s aim is to highlight that while primary school-aged children are in most danger of pedestrian injuries or deaths when they walk home from school, a simple but effective injury prevention measure is available.

“With nearly 40 percent of all injured child pedestrians struck on their way home from classes or after-school events, ACC wants parents and other caregivers to realise that walking children home from school may save them from injury or death.”

Mr Wilson says each year more than 300 children are hospitalised after being struck by vehicles on our roads and an average 17 are killed. ACC pays out about $2.1m a year in entitlements for pedestrian injuries to children aged up to 14. He says nationally, the peak age group for pedestrian injuries is five to nine year-olds.

“Primary school children are the biggest group at risk because they are still developing the ability to judge traffic situations and reliably cross the road safely. Typically, they’re injured when crossing roads unsupervised.

“Caregivers can not only help reduce the potential for after-school child injuries or deaths but also help their children learn the rules of the road. They can also reap the health benefits of walking, and the enhanced safety from reduced vehicle congestion around schools at home time.”

In addition to ACC Walk Me Home Day, the organisers of Kidsafe Week are also highlighting over the next week the concept of ‘walking school buses’. These involve parents or other caregivers volunteering on a roster basis to walk a group of children from or to school along a designated route.

Mr Wilson says raising the awareness of caregivers of the benefits of walking with their children to or from school did not remove the continued onus on all drivers to reduce speed around schools. Motorists should also be aware of the limitations of child pedestrians and their potential for unexpected actions.

“The statistics for the pedestrian injuries and deaths of our children are appalling. We want everyone in the community, not just the caregivers of primary school-aged children, to take responsibility for ensuring they are reduced.”

He says the costs to the community are not just measurable through the injury and death tolls but also through the ACC entitlements for claimants. Over the course of one year, more than 90,000 motorists levies need to be collected to fund the lifetime entitlement costs of five seriously injured children.

Mr Wilson says ACC’s safety campaigns tend to have a positive influence on injury rates but no amount of effort will make a permanent difference until New Zealanders change their mindset that “accidents happen by accident”.

In the past year ACC has doubled the number of frontline injury prevention consultants, increased the injury prevention budget to over $20 million and established 23 ThinkSafe community plans.

“The community plans have allowed us to let people know how their own local area is doing in terms of injuries and safety,” says Mr Wilson.

“Working within communities allows our injury prevention staff to tailor safety initiatives to local needs and to place an emphasis on local involvement and actions.

“Getting local communities actively involved in safety initiatives like ACC Walk Me Home Day can make a real difference in getting the messages across. The next challenge is to build those successes into a nation-wide attitude change.”

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