In Germany, there are five times as many cars as children. An impressive number. It comes from the German Children’s Fund, which has been campaigning for a long time for children to master the way to school independently on foot, by bike or by public transport and not to be dropped off at the schoolyard by helicopter parents in a cab. Physical activity is not only beneficial to children’s health, but also helps them learn to orient themselves in space and in traffic, and promotes independence and self-confidence.
So far, so good and so sensible. But how dangerous is it for children to make their own way to school these days when the streets are packed with cars? And what role does the right way to school play in this?
According to a study, most parents consider the existing road infrastructure too unsafe and therefore prefer to take their children to school themselves. There are now speed reductions in many places, he said, but sufficiently wide sidewalks or safe bike lanes are in short supply.
So what can be done to help children make safe routes to school?
Clearly, parents need to practice walking to school with their children and prepare them for conceivable dangers. First of all, however, the safest possible route to school must be found. Of course, the individual local knowledge of the parents is one of the most important components to find the best route and to assess potential dangers. To help plan and work out the route, there is a new digital school route planner that knows all the dangerous areas, helping to find the best route.
The school route planner is based on a Germany-wide map of danger spots, which is based on accident data from the police, reports from road users and other data such as weather conditions, braking data, etc. The map is also available in German. Here parents can easily calculate a route from home to school, by bike or on foot. The application works like well-known navigation systems, except that it also suggests safer routes in addition to the fastest or shortest route.
For the hazard map, we use OpenStreetMap, a map base with a free license that provides geoinformation of high quality and up-to-dateness. Based on this, the Openrouteservice of the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology at the University of Heidelberg is used for the route calculation. Based on these tools, we calculate an individual route for both pedestrians and cyclists and have developed the special routing for the school route calculator. When calculating safe routes to school, the system tries to avoid and bypass locations with a high risk potential, whereby the risk level can be individually set by the user.
A particular advantage of digital school route planning is that it is always up to date, as danger spots and accident blackspots can change over time. In addition, all schools can use the Internet tool and make it available to their students and their parents. These, in turn, can themselves mark danger areas in the application, thus broadening the database for all users. Cities and municipalities can also integrate the school route planner into their digital portfolio and thus fulfill their obligation to safeguard school routes.
We are aware that we cannot calculate an absolutely safe route to school with our solution. Road traffic is always subject to a certain risk and cannot be calculated. However, the aim is to sensitize parents to the topic and to provide them with a tool with which they can independently inform themselves about possible dangers and include them in their considerations about the way to school. In this way it is possible to reduce potential dangers.
Digital school route planning thus offers great support for everyone involved in finding safer routes for children in the future and avoiding accidents on the way to school.