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Child Safety Program Yields Health Dividends for Iowa

Students across Iowa are more likely to participate in a local Safe Routes to School program if their parents are convinced the route really is as safe as possible. (healthieriowa.com)
Students across Iowa are more likely to participate in a local Safe Routes to School program if their parents are convinced the route really is as safe as possible. (healthieriowa.com)
February 12, 2016

DECORAH, Iowa - "Safe Routes to School," a movement to get kids to walk or bike to and from school, has been active in Iowa for the past decade. This week, the same cause got a little bit of help from a state Senate panel.

The subcommittee approved a bill to make the rules for passing bicycles on Iowa roadways the same as for passing vehicles. It's a small but important safety detail for kids on bikes, said Ashley Christensen, regional Safe Routes to School coordinator for northeast Iowa.

"The main intent of Safe Routes to School programs are to create communities where it's safe enough and accessible for students to walk and bike to school," she said. "Safe Routes to School programs incorporate parents, schools, communities and government joining forces to improve the health and well-being of our students."

The bill, Senate File 2076, now moves to the Senate Transportation Committee for consideration.

Christensen said Safe Routes to School helps establish good habits for students that can lead to better health throughout their lives.

"Our kids are not as active as they should be today, and that leads to a whole mess of health issues for them," she said. "It's up to us as a society to fix that before any more detriment happens."

She said many programs were started with federal funding passed on to state transportation departments, but lack of funding has made it hard to expand them. The American Heart Association's Healthier Iowa Coalition is one group working to secure more public funding.

According to research, 43 percent of students who live less than a mile from school are still driven there. Christensen said Safe Routes to School programs give parents peace of mind as well.

"There's a lot of fear in the world today with many different things," she said. "And so, Safe Routes to School is a great way to kind of combat those fears, and give parents a safe way for those kids to get to school and be active at the same time."

The text of the bill is online at legis.iowa.gov. More information is at healthieriowa.com.

Jeff Stein, Public News Service - IA