It is back to school time, uniforms unearthed, children dragged back into a semblance of a daily routine, and (somewhat) relieved parents heading back to work.

To me, September feels like a more natural ‘new year’ than January. A time for new resolutions. Organisations promoting active travel send out the usual coverage of the benefits of walking or cycling to school.

In the past few years, messaging is accompanied by grim statistics of the worsening spectre of childhood obesity in the UK (one in 25 primary school children classified as seriously obese), and the added concerns about the damage air pollution does to young lives.

Generic encouragement to travel actively may not make front page news, but obesity and air pollution do. Have we listened? Have we changed our behaviour?

The short answer seems to be no. Figures from the national travel survey released in July show that in 2017 the proportion of primary school children who walk or cycle to school has fallen from 53 per cent to 51 per cent. That represents an extra 246,000 children being driven to school. In my opinion this doesn’t mean that parents are not concerned about air pollution and obesity, but that there are structural reasons that make them drive their children to school rather than walk or cycle.

A Scottish study in 2002 unpicked who was being driven to school and why. They found the following factors were influencing the growing trend for driving to school. The distance children travel to school has increased. Parental choice means children are often travelling out of catchment area making active travel harder. Increased levels of car ownership mean that households with two cars are more likely to drive their children to school. In addition, single parent families are also more likely to drive children to school, probably due to time pressures.

Add these to concerns about danger from road traffic, increasingly sparse provision of buses, perceptions of the cost of public transport versus driving, and the hectic nature of modern life; and you build up a picture of the barriers that many people face. If the school run is combined with a parent’s commute to work all the factors that influence that journey (distance, infrastructure, bike parking, showering facilities, culture) will also play out on the school run.

I’m not an apologist for driving on the school run, but changing behaviour at a society level is complex. If one barrier to change remains in place, often that change will not happen.

When trying to improve the school run we need to address the broader issues of how we all travel and why. Instead of just telling parents to enable their children to cycle and walk to school, we need to implement a range of measure that mean active travel is the rational choice.

When walking and cycling is the quickest, easiest and safest way to travel for short journeys people won’t need another reason, they will just do it.