Why we must stop vehicles idling near babies and children
Children are being exposed to air that negatively effects their physical and mental development and shortens their lives, some by months others by decades. Research from Queen Mary’s University London finds children are disproportionately exposed to higher doses of pollution during the school run, spending 7% of their day travelling to and from school but receiving 15% of their daily exposure to air pollution during this time.
There is no quick solution to tackle air pollution but for children there are simple small changes that can dramatically reduce their exposure to the highest concentrations of toxic air.
To date, the onus has been on parents and children to avoid vehicle exhaust by travelling to school along quiet roads, walking on the building side of pavements and standing back from the kerb at busy junctions. But what do you do when queues of vehicles are idling right outside your child’s nursery?
Parents have campaigned to have car free streets outside schools and actively encourage drivers not to idle vehicles at drop off and pick up times. Campaigners have sought to set up systems where reported idlers can be sent a letter informing them of the impact and illegality of idling and the impact on their and other people’s health. They’ve tried posters, signs, leaflets, and occasionally authorised persons to come and ask drivers to switch off their vehicle engines with a threat of a £20 fine.
Even with all this great work, millions of children across the UK have:
- reduced lung volume of 5% or more
- greater risk of serious health conditions throughout their lives
- shorter life expectancy
1.1 million children in the UK have asthma, one of the highest rates in the world.
Air Pollution recorded at a two metre height is often toxic. Young children and babies in buggies breathing at less than one metre height can be exposed to 60% more than being reported. Look how close their faces are to the tail pipe of idling vehicles. That’s highly concentrated toxic air they’re breathing and they are slowly being poisoned.
The highest levels of air pollution are not only due to the volume and type of vehicle but also the way in which a vehicle is driven.
- A single vehicle idling next to a child can mean breathing higher levels of toxic air than when by a road with flowing traffic.
- An idling vehicle produces almost twice the emissions as a moving vehicle.
- The first few metres from the exhaust is the highest concentration and the lack of vehicle movement means the toxic air is not quickly dispersed.
Just a small number of stationary vehicles idling outside a school or nursery means children are exposed to toxic levels of harmful gases like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) that will enter their lungs, their bloodstream and travel to very part of their body including their brain. This is not what children should be breathing as they start their day of learning.
The government are fully aware of the impact this is having on children, yet drivers can idle their vehicle engine for as long as they like, wherever they like. Only if they refuse to switch off their engine when asked by an ‘authorised person’ can they receive a fine of £20. This rarely happens.
Local authorities will not place an authorised person outside the 55,000 UK nurseries and schools and even if they did, drivers would simply switch off their vehicle engine when asked, or move along and idle somewhere else. Working within the current legislative framework will not stop vehicles idling next to babies and children.
We conducted a survey on Twitter and Facebook and the overwhelming majority of respondents said that:
- drivers should not be allowed to idle for more than 10 seconds
- the fine should be at least £100
- anyone with a smartphone should be able to video and report idling
This needs to be debated in Parliament and changes made to protect children and our planet from this unnecessary burning of fuel.
Say No2idling. Please sign and share our petition