Renault has launched ‘Be Mindful, Don’t Idle’ education campaign to improve air quality around schools after new research showed the scale of the problem.
More than 8,500 schools, nurseries and colleges in England, Scotland and Wales are located in areas with dangerously high levels of pollution, but the return to school could see the problem intensify with 62% of parents saying they are more likely to drive their children to and from school as a result of the recent pandemic.
The increased dependency on the car comes as more than a quarter (27.2%) admit to leaving their engines running – known as idling – during the school run, according to a detailed new study by Renault. Men are 50% more likely to do it than female drivers, representing 32.7% and 22% respectively.
Renault studied the habits and attitudes of more than 4,000 ‘school run’ parents and motorists. Of the reasons given for leaving their engines running nearly a third cited doing so because they are only stationary for ‘a short while’ and 26% wanted to keep the heater or air-con on.
Almost two-thirds (60%) of all drivers said they were unaware that it is illegal under Rule 123 of the Highways Code. Authorities can now issue £80 fixed penalties under Road Traffic Regulations 2002 and Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in Scotland.
A lack of parking near schools is the biggest infrastructural challenge to idling.
Overall 23% said they needed to be ready to move their car into a suitable parking space. Naturally, this issue is worse in urban areas – 60.9% – compared to rural locations with just 11.5%.
The report underlined the reasons for the ‘school run’, with 30% dropping their children off by car because it’s on their way to work, 18% because of safety concerns and 12% have no other means of getting them to school.
The issue of idling is greatest within built-up urban and suburban areas according to Renault. Half of those live in cities, yet 12% of those in rural areas admit to doing it regularly. Idling for just 10 seconds wastes more fuel than restarting the engine.
A 2019 study by Kings College London revealed that children in London travelling to schools across the capital are exposed to air pollution five times higher than at any other time of the day. Renault found that London accounted for the highest number of idling offenders – 22.5%.
“The fact that the majority of people don’t realise that idling is illegal just highlights the scale of the problem,” explained Matt Shirley, senior manager, electrification and new mobility.
“Every minute a car is idling it produces enough emissions to fill 150 balloons. It goes without saying, if the 27% of school run journeys stop idling, there would be a significant improvement in the air quality for their children.
“This is not about demonising the school run, our study underlines the importance, even more so since lockdown, of the car. We just want parents and guardians to be mindful of the detrimental impact of idling, and to alter their behaviours for their own children and those around them.”
New analysis by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), on behalf of Global Action Plan (GAP) and the Philips Foundation, shows that if outdoor air pollution is halved, there could be up to a 20-50% reduction in the number of children with poor lung function across the UK and Republic of Ireland.
The analysis also finds the reduction in air pollution seen during the country-wide lockdown lead to asthma attacks in children all but disappearing.
Given the most positive improvements to children’s lung resilience is likely to be realised if changes are enacted around the 2,000 schools in the most polluted hotspots across the country, a coalition has formed comprised of Global Action Plan, the Philips Foundation, Living Streets, Modeshift Stars and Mums for Lungs, with the support of Philips, the National Education Union, and NAHT.
The group is calling for nationwide action by the Government and local authorities to improve air quality at schools, driven by a legally binding target to meet World Health Organization limits.
To support the movement, Global Action Plan and the Philips Foundation, with the endorsement of Philips, have launched “The Clean Air Schools Framework”. The framework is a free online tool that gives teachers, headteachers, parents and local authorities a bespoke blueprint of actions for tackling air pollution in and around the school from its database of 50 actions.
The coalition is especially urging all local authorities to use the framework, highlighting actions taken in the London Borough of Hackney, which is one of the leading community grassroots initiative proactively tackling air pollution and pioneer of School Streets (one of the framework’s key actions).
The first four School Streets launched in the borough showed that traffic reduced by an average of 68%, the number of children cycling to school increased by 51% and vehicle emissions outside schools (NOx, PM10 and PM2.5) are down by 74% as a result of the schemes.