Children’s Attitudes to Sustainable Transport

The Scottish Executive commissioned DHC to undertake research on children’s and young people’s attitudes towards sustainable transport and transport choice and how these attitudes are developed by schools, the informal education sector, parents, and children’s own experiences as transport users.


This research showed that most young people had a good awareness of sustainable transport issues, and all had at least some basic understanding. How much children knew was affected by the level of input in individual schools: the extent of teaching about sustainable transport was patchy across surveyed schools.

However, knowing about sustainable transport did not necessarily impact on attitudes or behaviour. For example, nearly all secondary pupils felt that the car would play an important role in their transport choices as adults, despite a very wide understanding of the negative effects of pollution and congestion. The simple model of:

Environmental knowledge >> Environmental attitude >> Pro-environmental behaviour

which is still used heavily in many awareness-raising campaigns, is generally accepted to be unsuccessful in changing behaviour.

A deeper understanding of relevant issues was demonstrated in children participating in whole-school programmes such as Eco-Schools or Health Promoting Schools. Higher levels of commitment, led by the school in a cross-curricular manner, were sufficient to affect everyday behaviour and influence parents. In effect these measures, reduce the conflicting messages about transport that they receive from school, teachers, parents, and the media.

There are many opportunities within the school curriculum to teach concepts related to sustainable transport. However, the research suggested these were not immediately obvious to curriculum planners and classroom teachers, and appropriate resources, guidance and schemes of work were felt to be lacking.

This project highlighted the importance of understanding age, gender and location differences when targeting children with specific messages about transport. Thus, environmental messages were seen to be unlikely to be successful in promoting behaviour change, except with primary children and their parents. Boys were more responsive to health and fitness messages, while girls were more open to the social aspects of travel, viewing buses and walking much more positively than boys.

About the Project

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