Children’s incidental social interaction during travel: International case studies from Canada, Japan, and Sweden

Key takeaway:

  • Children who walk to and from school are most likely to see someone they know and have some kind of social interaction with them (i.e., waving and speaking). This positively impacts wellbeing and helps build a sense of community.


  • Children who walked to school were most likely to see someone they know, compared to other modes of travel: 53% of Canadian children saw someone they knew on at least one trip, 91% of Japanese children did, and 41% of Swedish children did.
  • Compared to bicycle trips, walking trips are nearly ten times more likely to result in children seeing someone they know.
  • Children who walked to school on their own were significantly more likely to see someone they knew on their commute, compared to children who walked to school with a parent or guardian. This could be because other adults were more likely to notice and help keep an eye on children commuting alone. Also, children commuting alone have to pay more attention to their surroundings and their route, which means they will notice familiar faces more.
  • Canada: Active travel to elementary school peaked when children were 10 years old at under 35% as of 2011. The majority of trips in Canada are by car, though the rates of car usage are lower among people living in urban centers. 
  • Sweden: Children’s everyday mobility has decreased due to growing traffic volumes; higher speeds; more aggressive driving; increased distances to schools, services, and leisure activities; and increased parental concern about safety.
  • Japan: Car use rates are increasing as walking rates are decreasing. Elementary school children have the highest walking rates (over 70% as of 2010) as they typically walk to school in walking school buses and walk home, both alone and with an adult or other children.



  • Encouraging and facilitating children to walk independently to and from school could increase their community connections, which could increase parental perceptions of safety and confidence to let children travel independently.



  • The researchers distributed surveys about children’s school commutes at elementary schools in Canada, Japan, and Sweden between 2014 and 2015. There were 529 respondents altogether (184 in Canada, 189 in Japan, 156 in Sweden). 


Waygood, E.O.D.; Friman, M.; Olsson, L.E.; Taniguchi, A. (2017). Children’s incidental social interaction during travel: International case studies from Canada, Japan, and Sweden. Journal of Transport Geography, 63.

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