Students Compete in Virtual Bike Race Around the World
Flickr photo from ms4jah.

Flickr photo from ms4jah.

The U.K.-based sustainable transport charity Sustrans is launching a month-long “virtual bike race” with adventurer Alastair Humphreys to encourage kids to bike to school, according to Bike Biz.

The contest targets 20,000 students from 140 schools across England. Over the next four weeks, each time a student, parent or staff member rides to school, more miles will be added to the virtual map charting the route of Alastair Humphrey, who biked 46,000 miles across 60 countries in four years. The school that racks up the most combined miles, wins £1000 – not mention bragging rights for being the most carbon-friendly commuters.

The initiative is part of Sustran’s Bike It project, which employs more than 30 “Bike It Officers” at over 300 schools in England to teach students about the benefits of cycling and road safety through workshops, activities and events. So far, the program has quadrupled the number of children cycling to its target schools, according to Sustrans. (To learn more, download the 2008 Bike It Project Review.)

Apparently, only 2% of English schoolchildren take two wheels to school. The Bike It project aims to increase that percentage, not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the morning commute, but also to give children a sense of “freedom, independence and self-reliance.”

Problem is, the ride to school is getting longer (since 1995 the average distance traveled to school has risen from 2.9 to 3.3 miles, according to Bike It’s most recent annual report) and can also be dangerous, “reducing further the ability of children to travel under their own steam.”

Road safety for children is a particular concern in developing countries like India, where road traffic claims the lives of more than 60,000 children each year, according to Safe Kids Foundation, an organization of the Safe Kids Worldwide Network dedicated to the prevention of unintentional childhood injury.

At the global level, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children under 18, according to the World Health Organization. Traffic accidents kill more than 500 children every day, and more than 85 percent of accidents happen in the developing world, where most children killed or hurt are pedestrians.

To document road safety from a kid’s perspective, Safe Kids Walk this Way launched a photography initiative, sponsored by FedEx, called “Photovoice,” which put digital cameras in the hands of more than 1,600 children from seven countries, including China, India and Brazil. (Moira Donahue gave a presentation about this during EMBARQ’s Transforming Transportation event in January.)

So while not every child in the world has a safe route to school, at least organizations like Sustrans and Safe Kids can help a handful of kids get on the right track.

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