COMMENT:

I have spent the past 15 years researching and advocating for the return to places that allow us as human beings to freely move, walk, cycle and scooter, in other words - the opportunity to live an active life without being constantly dependent on the car.

We live in a beautiful city which regularly features as one of the most liveable in the world. Unfortunately, we also consistently rank in the top 20 countries for people using vehicles to get to work. More than 80 per cent of Auckland and Hamilton's populations do so.

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Many health issues are due to the use of cars as our main transport and children suffer most. Children are more restricted in terms of roaming their neighbourhoods, walking or cycling to school, than previous generations. Their physical activity is declining, which affects their fitness and health.

This is accelerating because parents aren't allowing kids to walk or cycle; primarily due to safety fears. Traffic is another barrier. High school students who cycle find it intimidating and perceive drivers as arrogant and angry. The good news is change is in the air.

Evidence shows increases in children walking and cycling to school following a comprehensive approach like Auckland Transport's newly adopted Vision Zero strategy, which introduces traffic-calming (design measures to improve safety) and safe speed limits, especially on roads close to schools.

When parents see walking and cycling as a safe option, they're more likely to allow kids to walk and cycle. When this becomes the norm, two things happen: kids learn cars aren't the only option for getting around and they gain the freedom to explore their local area and become more independent.

By being outdoors, they are more likely to meet the Ministry of Health's physical activity recommendation of 60 minutes per day for health benefits; crucial for physical, social and intellectual development.

Vision Zero is an ethics-based principle, developed in Sweden, that says no one's life should be endangered when travelling on the transport network. Achieving Vision Zero, where we consistently have zero deaths and serious injuries, is underpinned by setting safe and appropriate speeds.

The higher the speed of a vehicle, the longer the braking distance. A car travelling at 50km/h will typically require 63 metres to stop, while a car travelling at 30km/h will stop in 32 metres. So, the introduction of safe speeds will result in significant reductions in crash severity particularly for children and other vulnerable road users.

In December 2018, the World Health Organization launched the Global status report on road safety which highlighted that the number of annual road traffic deaths was increasing and had reached 1.35 million. Road traffic injuries are now the leading killer of young people aged 5-29. More than half of road traffic deaths were among vulnerable road users: people walking and cycling and on motorbikes.

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The WHO report reminds us that the price paid for car use is too high, especially when proven measures such as Vision Zero strategies exist. The WHO recommends putting these strategies into practice to save people's lives. Auckland's Vision Zero approach is absolutely needed if we want to avoid seeing sobering numbers like the 58 people who died or the 595 people who were seriously injured with life-changing consequences in 2018.

• Professor Erica Hinckson is the head of AUT's School of Sport and Recreation