Walking Safely and Without Fear

October 23, 2009

Yesterday, parents throughout the United States were shocked by the tragic death of a seven year old girl, Somer Thompson who was found killed after not making it home from school. The girl was walking home with a group of other children and got separated. In response to this tragedy, media reports, blogs and others have responded with a broad range of perspectives from decrying the practice of allowing young children to walk home without an adult to those who caution an overreaction to the incident.

The tragedy of this situation does not change the fact that child abductions, particularly by strangers, have become a rarity. A 2002 federal study reported that 99.8 percent of all missing children returned home safe. Of the remaining only an estimated 0.0068 percent represents kidnappings by a stranger.[1] Abductions, however rare, are unacceptable. However, protecting our children from dangers needs to be balanced with what the real risks are and good decision-making.

Where is the danger to our kids? It is in not letting them walk! Since 1969, the number of kids walking/biking to school has fallen from 50% to 15% while childhood obesity has risen from 8% to 30% (CDC). Over 300,000 deaths are attributed to disease and complications surrounding obesity.[2] Over 12,000 children die each year from unintentional deaths. For children 5 to 19 years old, the leading cause of death was from being a passenger or driver in an auto-accident. [3]

Walking to school is not the problem but one the major solutions to what ails our country. Andy Hamilton, Executive Director for WalkSanDiego and Vice President of America Walks said, “Creating communities, resources and a culture that support children walking to school is one of the best ways to improve our quality of life. Safe walkable environments reduce car trips, improve children’s health, and increase children’s confidence in navigating the challenges of world.” 

Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, said in an interview yesterday “We all know the world can be a dangerous place, which is why I have worked to train my kids to be safe. All free-range parents do. We know that at some point, some time, even if we don’t expect it, our children will be beyond our sight, and we want them to be as prepared as possible.Somer’s parents were doing the right thing. They were raising a child who could be independent and who could become healthy and thriving adult. Our job as community members, parents, politicians and the like is to make sure we do not let fear drive our decisions.

Contact   Mindy Craig, President
America Walks,


[1] The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Efforts to Combat Crimes Against Children, Audit Report 09-08, January 2009, Office of the Inspector General, Chapter 3: Child Abductions.

[2] American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

[3] CDC Childhood Injury Report: Patterns of Unintentional Injuries among 0-19 Year Olds in the United States, 2000-2006