Is Car Culture Robbing Kids of Independence?

Apparently walking down the sidewalk instead of getting a ride is now such a radical act that it could land your family in trouble with the law — at least if the walkers are kids.

A Maryland family was threatened with having their 10-year-old and 6-year-old removed from their home after their kids were reported to police for — gasp— walking home from the park. A mile from home.

As a parent who falls on the free-range end of the spectrum, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why standards for what kids can do on their own have changed so radically since I was a kid. There is less crime and fewer traffic fatalities now than 30 years ago. Is it because people’s perception of crime is skewed by television? Maybe. Because moms work full-time and so no one is around to keep an eye on wandering kids? I doubt it.*

Today I am wondering if the reason people think it’s unsafe for kids to walk places is more because no one walks. My cousin Marion, age 91, recently told me that although her family owned a car in the 1930s when she was growing up, her dad used it to drive to work, so when she wanted to go ice skating with a friend miles from home on a subzero day, they hoofed it. When I was a kid int he 1980s, it was the same story. The car was for going to work. Most kids’ trips could be completed on foot or bike — by the kid.

At some point along the line, two cars became the norm for families. Driving kids short distances became one of parents’ responsibilities, and since kids can’t drive, the concept of kids going anywhere on their own faded from the public consciousness. To the point where seeing a couple of kids walking along the sidewalk is alarming enough to merit a 911 call.

Today on Car-Free Mom, I wrote about the relative dangers of transporting kids in cars and letting them walk alone. What do you think kills more kids each year, riding in cars or walking to the park?

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