Your Health

Why You Shouldn’t Idle Your Vehicle In School Zones

Do your Part in Ensuring a Safe and Healthy School Environment for Children

The beginning of the new school year is right around the corner and school-aged children around the country will be heading back to an environment full of learning, creative expression, and…air pollution? Unfortunately, yes. Well, what does this even mean? And what can we do to help our children enjoy a safe and healthy environment at school? The answer is in idling! (or rather, NOT idling). Turn your key and be idle free!

If you have ever transported a child to/from school, you know there can be a lot of waiting involved. During the busiest times at drop off and pickup, there is always a crowd of cars and busses surrounding the area. These vehicles often idle while waiting for the children they’re transporting, and the exhaust from the vehicles creates hot spots of localized air pollution. Monitoring of air quality around schools has shown spikes of different air pollutants during drop off and pick up times (1).

Air pollution is comprised of many dangerous environmental toxicants that epidemiological studies have associated with asthma, impaired lung function and development, impaired reproductive health, and cancer and cardiovascular disease later in life (2, 3, 4). Components of vehicle-sourced air pollution include PM2.5, a catch-all term for a size of particles that can pass through lung membranes, black carbon (soot), and PAH’s, a class of compounds known to cause cancer (1). Not exactly what we want our kiddos breathing in! Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution as their bodies, and specifically their respiratory systems, are not yet fully developed (5). Additionally, climate change, unsurprisingly, is not helping the situation. Research vetted by the EPA has indicated that climate change has the potential to increase ground-level concentrations of different air pollutants, although the details are still unclear (6).

What You Can Do

Luckily, there is a relatively simple solution that can help children breathe cleaner air. A big way we can limit local hot spots of toxic air pollutants is by limiting the release of vehicle exhaust in school zones. The EPA recommends that individuals turn off their cars if they will be idling for more than 10 seconds (5). Easy enough! This action will have a large effect on the air quality if everyone does their part. In addition to parent cars, busses are a major source of fuel exhaust in school zones. So teachers, parents, and school staff- see what you can do at your local school to prevent bus idling as well. Many schools throughout the United States have started Idle Free School Campaigns. If you are worried about your child’s exhaust exposure, talk to the principal and teachers about piloting a campaign. The EPA provides schools with a handful of tools to help create an idle-free environment (5).

Other than reducing idling, the EPA also recommends driving further behind vehicles that have visible exhaust or noticeable odor (4). These vehicles are releasing excessive amounts of exhaust that you want to steer clear from if possible. Also, if you happen to be in the market for a new car and were debating on whether or not to make the move to a hybrid or electric vehicle, children’s health may be a factor worth your consideration. Hybrid vehicles often have a gas-saving feature that shuts off the engine when the car is at a full stop, so both of these would help eliminate toxic pollutants in school zones that result from idling.

Other Reasons Not to Idle

In addition to protecting children’s health, there are a number of other reasons to refrain from idling. Reduction of idle time will save you money! Idling for only two minutes wastes the amount of gas that would allow you to drive one mile. Also, idling for long periods of time contributes to more rapid wear and tear of vehicle machinery (7). Saving yourself some money is as simple as turning a key! Additionally, vehicle exhaust plays a significant role in overall air pollution and climate change. In a time where it is so important to think about the effect we are having on this earth, cutting idle time is something simple you can do. Whether you are a parent, teacher, or school staff member, pledge to be idle free and contribute to a healthy environment for our children to grow and learn! And save money and help the earth in the process!