Letting kids walk to school alone a learning curve for parents

By Cassandra Szklarski


Toronto mom Tanya Barrett has no problem getting her 10-year-old twin boys excited about walking outside unsupervised and taking public transit to school by themselves for the first time in September.

The issue is getting herself comfortable with the idea.

“They’re raring to go, but for me they’re 10,” says the mom of four kids, admitting to feeling a twinge of anxiety as she pushes them into a new realm of independence.

“My neighbours are driving their Grade 7s and 8s to school. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, my kids are going to be all by themselves. Off they go.”

Barrett would prefer that they continue taking a yellow school bus, but they’ve grown out of that service now that they’re entering Grade 6. Barrett doesn’t drive, and has an eight-year-old that needs supervision before and after school. So that leaves public transit as the only option.

She says she’s eager to see her boys mature and take on greater responsibility, but she can’t help but wonder if it’s too soon.

The answer to when a child is ready depends on many factors, says parenting expert Kathy Lynn, citing age, distance, and the travel route.

But there’s no question it’s a valuable rite of passage that every child should experience, she insists.

“Walking to school is an important part of growing up, it’s an important part of actually doing well in school because if you’re walking to school you’re getting some fresh air and exercise,” says Lynn, a Vancouver-based author and public speaker.

“When we have a child who gets up in the morning and sits down to breakfast and sits down in a car and then they get to a classroom and sit down, they can’t sit still. For a lot of them I bet you they don’t pay a whole lot of attention until after recess.”

She encourages parents to prepare their kids for independence between Grades 1 and 3. That might sound young to some, but Lynn argues that today’s kids have been coddled by over-protective caregivers.

“Parents seem to be afraid that kids won’t be safe and kids are used to being taken places,” she says. “And then all of a sudden we have ourselves a child who’s graduated Grade 12 who’s trying to apply for a job and they haven’t a clue how to go anywhere.”

She suggests parents use the month of August to teach kids how to travel safely.

Barrett started training her boys about a month ago for the 25-minute streetcar ride to school. She and her husband bought the twins phones, drilled them on street safety, and started letting them visit the local park and pool by themselves.

That freedom comes with more responsibility, Barrett adds, noting she’s also insisted they learn to check the time frequently and adhere to strict curfews and geographical limits.

“It’s hard because nowadays, everything is monitored, everything is supervised, everything is kept very close, play dates are arranged,” she says of lengthening the leash.

“Other parents will try to parent your kid, so that’s kind of it, too, right? We have a lot of shaming and parent-shaming.”

Data from a Greater Toronto Area public transit agency suggests fewer kids than ever are heading to school unaccompanied.

Earlier this year, a report from Metrolinx found the number of students being driven to school in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area has more than doubled in the last few decades. It jumped to nearly 31 per cent, while the number of kids who walked to school declined to 39 per cent from 56 per cent.

The safety organization Parachute refrains from designating what age kids are ready to navigate the city by themselves, but encourages parents to begin discussing traffic safety when their kids are toddlers.

Even though Barrett has already been through this process with her eldest now 21 she still worries about how her twins will manage come September.

“It’s hard to let your kids grow up. You want to protect them,” says Barrett.

“You kind of have to learn to let go, let them be independent, hope you’ve given them the tools and then trust them.”


Solving Your Road Safety Problem

WD-101_Const._Ahead.thumbnailEveryone would like to feel safe in their neighbourhood and that extends to having everyone else obey the driving rules when they are in it. So, what do you do when this is not the case? The answer depends on how much you want to become involved in the solution.

Years of contact with people through this site has taught me that most people either want a sympathetic ear to listen to their complaint or expect someone else, most often the police, to solve the problem after being notified about it. These people do not want to become involved beyond this point, after providing the information it is now an issue for someone else to solve.

Drawing the attention of road safety authorities to a problem is the right place to start though. You have intimate knowledge of your neighbourhood and it’s problems because you live there. You know how often drivers don’t follow the speed limit, don’t stop for stop signs and where the common crash locations are.

The best way to make general complaints is in writing. Although the default agency is often the police, your local MLA, the road maintenance contractor or the district office of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure may be a better choice, depending on the problem. Provide them with a comprehensive description of the problem as you see it including as much detail as you are able to.

I still admire the initiative one man took to measure speeding vehicles that passed his home. He measured the distance between two telephone poles beside the highway that were visible from his kitchen window. When he had a few spare minutes, he’d sit at the kitchen table with a stopwatch and measure the time between poles for passing traffic. That time was easily turned into a speed that he recorded along with when it occurred. He now had accurate information that he could present to police that backed up his opinion.

You could choose to make an appointment with the local manager of the appropriate service and present your issue personally. The manager will then have a person to go with the complaint that could serve to make it more immediate. Discuss the problems, the possible solutions and obtain a commitment to do something.

Follow up on the commitment after a reasonable time. If some action has been taken you have started down the road to a solution. If not, find out why, as this is important to your next step if you choose to continue to obtain a solution.

If the Ministry does not have the budget for an improvement or the police don’t have the manpower for more frequent patrols, this is an issue to solve along the way, not an excuse for failing to take action.

The internet can be a gold mine for those who want to make a difference. Chances are good that someone else has had the same problem and may already have a reasonable solution. You could join or create a group and lobby more effectively. If you are careful of the source, it is also a great place to do research and learn more about your issue which may provide a path to a solution.

Generally, problems do not go away by themselves. Complain constructively and be a part of the solution. Also, make sure that you are not part of the problem, in your neighbourhood or someone else’s.

Cst. Tim Schewe (Ret.) runs DriveSmartBC, a community web site about traffic safety in British Columbia. For 25 years he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including five years on general duty, 20 in traffic and 10 as a collision analyst responsible of conducting technical investigations of collisions. He retired from policing in 2006 but continues to be active in traffic safety through the DriveSmartBC web site, teaching seminars and contributing content to newspapers and web sites.

Avoid risky behaviour and prevent bad habits when learning how to drive, ICBC urges

Avoid risky behaviour and prevent bad habits when learning how to drive, ICBC urges

Now that summer’s in full swing, teenagers are taking advantage of the school break to learn how to drive. Summer is the busiest time at Driver Licensing Offices. In August alone, an average of 5,500 B.C. teens get their learner’s licence.

Although youth injuries and deaths from car crashes are declining in B.C., on average, 32 youth aged 16 to 21 are killed and 6,900 are injured every year. That’s why it’s important for teens to get a good start to their driving careers by building strong foundational skills that will make them safe and confident drivers for life.

When young drivers hit the road for the first time, they get a sense of newfound freedom and independence. But driver inexperience and overestimation of ability contribute to crashes.

ICBC’s top five tips for parents teaching their teen to drive

  1. Review the rules: Once your teen has their class 7 learner’s licence, they can hit the road with a qualified supervisor. Review your teen’s copy of ICBC’s Tuning Up for Drivers guide to brush up on the rules of the road and learn about the restrictions of each stage of the graduated licensing program so that you can make sure your teen follows them. This is also a great time to work on any of your own bad driving habits to set a good example for the new driver in your house.
  2. Gearing up: The type of car your teen learns to drive on can make a big difference. It’s best to learn on a vehicle that’s a manageable size, has good visibility, an automatic transmission and as many safety features as possible. Begin your driving lessons on roads with minimal traffic and avoid rush hour congestion to help build your teen’s confidence and ease their nerves. A driving lesson can be stressful for both teens and parents, so it’s a time to stay calm, focused on the road and avoid any distractions.
  3. Call in the experts: To help your teen gain as much driving experience as possible consider signing them up for lessons through a professional driving school, if you can. Instructors can be objective without the emotion that’s often involved in parent-teen relationships. If you do choose this route, stay involved and discuss what they’re learning. ICBC-approved driver training could take six months off a new driver’s time in graduated licensing.
  4. Test it out: To prepare for your teen’s road test, practice driving as much as possible at different times of the day, in different weather and road conditions and in unfamiliar neighbourhoods. That way they’ll be prepared for whatever conditions they encounter on the day of their road test. Teens can also take ICBC’s road ready quiz to help them avoid common driving mistakes.
  5. Keep them safe: Once your teen has passed their class 7 road test and can now drive without a supervisor, consider creating a family contract. It helps set out your expectations of your teen, the responsibilities you want them to show on the road and the consequences for breaking those rules.

If your teen will be driving your vehicle, review your insurance coverage. If your vehicle is rated in an experienced rate class (all drivers in a household with at least 10 years’ driving experience), you’ll need to change the rate class.

Teens can find the redesigned practice knowledge test, video driving tips and road signs practice test on icbc.com. The practice knowledge test can also be downloaded as an app free from the Apple Store.

Media contact:

Sam Corea

Survey highlights thoughts about cyclist safety on busy Canadian streets

Survey highlights thoughts about cyclist safety on busy Canadian streets

Press Release:

CNW – Aurora, ON (July 27, 2016) With bicycling season now in full effect Canadian cyclists are taking to the roads; but how they can arrive safely at their destination is a constant concern in communities large and small.

Whether it’s encountering distracted drivers and pedestrians, construction, road obstacles, or other cyclists who don’t follow the rules, safely sharing the streets is a daily adventure. So it’s not surprising that one out of four Canadians think that it’s unsafe to ride a bicycle on city streets.

Friction between cyclists and motorists is well-known. According to a recent national survey from State Farm Canada, 55 per cent of Canadian drivers find cyclists to be an annoyance on the road. But it’s a two-way street, almost the same number (54 per cent) of cyclists find motorists to be annoying while they’re biking.

“Motorists and cyclists have had a contentious relationship for years. A lack of cycling infrastructure and confusion about the rules of sharing the road has a lot to do with it,” says John Bordignon, Media Relations, State Farm. “Small things to drivers, like drainage grates and potholes are major dangers to cyclists. Cyclists that disobey traffic laws or take up lane space en masse can have motorists seeing red. Having a better understanding of the laws in your area, staying focused and sober on the road whether you’re driving a car or riding a bike, is essential to ensuring all of us remain safe.”

Cycling on Busy Streets

It’s understandable that the busier the street, the higher the level of danger is for cyclists, but that does not deter everyone. Almost 20 per cent of survey respondents state they bike on busy streets. Of those respondents who do, more than half have either personally been in, or know someone who has been in an accident while cycling on the road.

Impairments and Distractions

Cycling can be dangerous enough, according to Statistics Canada close to 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured every year, but the danger increases if a cyclist is impaired or distracted. Alarmingly, 36 per cent of cyclists who say that they ride on busy streets and more than half of Canadian teens admit to texting while biking.

When it comes to cycling impaired, more than 72 per cent think cyclists should face the same penalties as drivers.

Increasing Safety

There are small steps cyclists can take to better ensure their safety – eight out of 10 respondents think cyclists should be legally required to wear a helmet. Making sure cars are able to see and hear them by having a bell and lights or reflectors is also important. Unfortunately, almost 40 per cent of Canadians are unaware and don’t know that cyclists are legally required to have a bell and lights or reflectors equipped on their bike.

Giving the appropriate amount of distance when passing those on a bike, especially when there’s no designated bicycle lane, is important. However, almost 45 per cent of Canadians state that drivers should only give cyclists one meter or less when passing them on the street.

Additional Resources

This is the second of three news releases State Farm will distribute in 2016 revealing survey results and the opinions of Canadians about their driving habits and road safety.

To find out more about how State Farm works to improve road safety in Canada, please visit www.statefarm.ca/autosafety

About the Survey

The online survey, conducted in March, 2016, polled 3,000 respondents of driving age across Canada.

About State Farm:

In January 2015, State Farm’s Canadian operations were purchased by Desjardins Group, the leading cooperative financial group in Canada and among the three largest P&C insurance providers in Canada. With its 500 dedicated agents and 1700 employees, the State Farm division provides insurance and financial services products including mutual funds, life insurance, vehicle loans, critical illness, disability, home and auto insurance to customers in Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick. For more information, visit www.statefarm.ca, join us on Facebook – www.facebook.com/statefarmcanada, or follow us on Twitter – www.twitter.com/statefarmcanada.

®State Farm and related trademarks and logos are registered trademarks owned by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, used under licence by Certas Home and Auto Insurance Company and certain of its affiliates.

©Copyright 2016, Certas Home and Auto Insurance Company.


For more information, please contact:
Ginger Shewell
Media Profile
ginger.shewell@mediaprofile.com / 416-342-1802

John Bordignon
State Farm Canada

ICBC, police and government warn drivers to stay alert on the roads this long weekend

ICBC, police and government warn drivers to stay alert on the roads this long weekend

As we head into B.C. Day long weekend, ICBC, the B.C. government and police are asking all drivers who will be setting off on a road trip to look out for the key warnings signs of fatigue – you don’t recall driving the last few kilometres, you don’t notice a vehicle until it suddenly passes you or your driving speed is creeping up or down.

Every year, 16 people are killed in crashes involving driver fatigue in B.C.*

Warm summer weather and long drives can be a dangerous combination that can cause fatigue. Fatigue slows a driver’s reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment. Even a slight decrease in reaction time can greatly increase your risk of crashing especially when travelling at highway speeds.

Top tips to reduce your risk:

  • Plan your journey: Get a good sleep the night before you leave on a long trip and know the route you’re going to take so you can plan to stop at rest points along the way. Take a break every two hours on long road trips and avoid driving during the night when you’d normally be asleep. Long weekends always mean more vehicles on the road so plan ahead by checking road and weather conditions on drivebc.ca.

  • Take a break: Pull over as soon as you start to feel drowsy. Get out and walk around to get some fresh air. If that’s not enough, pull over to a safe area, turn off your car and take a nap. Turning up the radio or air conditioning won’t help. The only cure for drowsiness is sleep; it’s better to arrive late than not at all.

  • Know the signs: We don’t often sense the degree of our own fatigue when we’re driving so it’s important to know the warning signs:

    • You don’t notice a vehicle until it suddenly passes you.

    • You don’t recall driving the last few kilometres.

    • You’re yawning or daydreaming.

    • You find yourself wandering into the next lane.

    • Your driving speed creeps up or down.

    • Your eyes feel heavy or you have difficulty keeping your head up.


“Being well-rested and staying alert at the wheel is the best way to reach your destination safely,” said Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “Consider sharing the driving with a passenger if possible to reduce your risk of getting fatigued. Visit drivebc.ca ahead of your trip to check road conditions and plan your rest breaks.”

“Law enforcement will be keeping watch on B.C. roadways this long weekend to ensure drivers are abiding by the law and making smart choices with their travel plans,” said Mike Morris, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “We want everyone to arrive at their destinations safely so that means putting your phone away, being alert and paying attention to the road.”

“If you’re setting out on a road trip this weekend, make sure you’re well rested so you stay alert at the wheel,” said Chief Constable Neil Dubord, Chair of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee. “We want everyone to arrive at their destinations safely. Police will be out looking for unsafe drivers across the province this long weekend.”

“The best way to prevent driver fatigue this long weekend is to get a good sleep and start your road trip when you are well rested, typically in the morning, rather than rushing after a full day at work,” said Lindsay Matthews, ICBC’s director responsible for road safety. “The signs of fatigue can sneak up on you so it’s important to recognize the warning signs. Make sure you’ve gotten plenty of rest and plan to stop at viewpoints or rest stops every two hours.”

Additional statistics**:

  • Over the B.C. Day long weekend, five people are killed and 600 injured in 2,400 crashes throughout the province.

  • Over the B.C. Day long weekend, 420 people are injured in 1,500 crashes in the Lower Mainland.

  • Over the B.C. Day long weekend, 84 people are injured in 400 crashes in Southern Interior.

  • Over the B.C. Day long weekend, 20 people are injured in 130 crashes in northern B.C.

  • Over the B.C. Day long weekend, 85 people are injured in 350 crashes on Vancouver Island.

*Driver fatigue is underreported as it’s difficult to measure. Based on police data (2010 to 2014).

**Injured victims and crashes from 2015 ICBC data and fatal victims from police data five-year average (2010 to 2014).

Media contact:
Sam Corea

Enforcement of Laws Concerning Noisy Vehicles

Noisy.thumbnailThe question this week revolves around vehicle noise in quiet neighbourhoods. Why don’t the municipalities do more about it asks my correspondent. This may be a case of the squeaky wheel not getting the grease!

We all like to enjoy the peace and quiet of our property without being disturbed by loud noise. There is good reason for that because noise that disturbs is bad for our health, both physical and mental. While we may tolerate occasional short duration noise that is not too loud, our urban environment can be continuously noisy at all times of the day.

There is ample legislation in place to control noise from vehicles. The Criminal Code, Motor Vehicle Act and municipal bylaws all provide rules and penalties for those that fail to follow them. It is up to police and bylaw enforcement to deal with those who fail to consider others and make life miserable.

No person shall start, drive, turn or stop any motor vehicle, or accelerate the vehicle engine while the vehicle is stationary, in a manner which causes any loud and unnecessary noise in or from the engine, exhaust system or the braking system, or from the contact of the tires with the roadway. This quote from the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations (MVAR) pretty much covers every aspect of vehicle noise, regardless of it’s source.

There is no requirement that test equipment be used to determine if a vehicle is generally too loud. The MVAR provides that the opinion of an inspector as to whether the engine and exhaust noise is greater than that made by other vehicles in good condition of comparable size, horsepower, piston displacement or compression ratio shall determine whether exhaust gases are expelled with excessive noise.

Having said that, the MVAR does provide maximum sound pressure levels for various types of motor vehicles and they may be tested using a decibel meter.

The real stumbling block here is the willingness of enforcement personnel to devote time to the issue and having the courts convict violators.

Traffic law enforcement focuses on drivers whose behaviour causes collisions. There is some time in an officer’s shift for activities that don’t directly deal with harm reduction but the current aims are to curtail impaired and distracted driving, excessive speed and insure the use of occupant restraints. Don’t expect much time to be devoted to your noise issues.

I once sat through an entire day of provincial court waiting for the dispute of a ticket that I had written to the rider of a motorcycle that did not have a muffler. The hearing was brief and the judge dismissed the ticket as the last matter on the list. I spoke to him outside the courtroom afterwards and was told that the matter really wasn’t important to him in the context of the other trials he had to hear daily.

I have not policed in a municipality where bylaw enforcement officers dealt with noise from moving vehicles. While that does not mean that this does not occur, it does show the importance that some municipalities attach to your problem. They too have more pressing issues to deal with.

While we may lose sleep over noisy vehicles around our homes, chances are the most effective way to deal with the situation is to roll over and go back to sleep.

Cst. Tim Schewe (Ret.) runs DriveSmartBC, a community web site about traffic safety in British Columbia. For 25 years he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including five years on general duty, 20 in traffic and 10 as a collision analyst responsible of conducting technical investigations of collisions. He retired from policing in 2006 but continues to be active in traffic safety through the DriveSmartBC web site, teaching seminars and contributing content to newspapers and web sites

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