CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On Wednesday, Parents ditched their car keys while kids laced up their sneakers for national “Walk to School Day.”

“Letting our children know we don’t always have to take a car, that we can walk or ride bikes when we can,” says Kelly Coley, a parent.

The sidewalks near Cotswold Elementary were filled with colorful sneakers this morning. Kids stopped at Sonic Automotive to interact with NASCAR cars and mascots before finishing with a pep rally ahead of class.

This year, the Carolinas are more involved than ever – with 296 registered schools in North Carolina and 213 registered schools in South Carolina. In fact, the Tarheel State ranks fourth in the number of registered "Walk to School" events in the entire country.

While the change of pace is fun for the kids, the message of today's event is a serious one. In addition to promoting exercise and environmental conservation, Wednesday's festivities also raises awareness regarding pedestrian safety – and the importance of using the crosswalks.

"We've had approximately 17 this year where it was just pedestrian fatalities where if they would've been simply walking in the crosswalk, they possibly would not have been hit,” says CMPD Officer Ted Crowley.

“Everybody doing it together helps everybody be on the same page and it’s a good reminder,” says Coley.