Last May, PetrolPrices wrote about how clean air campaigners wanted to ban the car-based school run. With figures showing that a quarter of all cars are on our roads during school drop-off and collection times, a new plan to reduce air pollution—and defend children against poisonous vehicle-related fumes—will now fine parents who drive their children to school.

Hundreds of head teachers are piloting schemes to stop drivers pulling up to the school gates, with £50 fines and even penalties leading to points on their licences for those who snub the ban.

Public health emergency

Schools in Hackney, East London and in Southampton, banned parents from parking at their school entrances just before Christmas, and thousands of other schools are preparing to join the pilot. While the scheme is voluntary at present, campaigners are calling for the ban to become mandatory at all schools and nurseries—something that the almost 2,000 schools and nurseries in areas with dangerous levels of air pollution will welcome.

To help transition parents and children from car to foot, various initiatives are taking place, such as, ‘park and stride’ schemes and the temporary closing of roads.

Some schools are going further to deliver their message, with schoolchildren handing out fake tickets to parents who arrive in cars and others even taking part in ‘playing dead’ protests. Police officers in Solihull, West Midlands are helping the cause by issuing fines to motorists who don’t follow the ban.

While the changes to the school run may anger many time-challenged parents, one cannot dispute the evidence showing the detrimental effect traffic pollution has on our health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described air pollution as a ‘public health emergency’ and their latest figures attribute 4.2 million deaths worldwide every year to ambient air pollution with around 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx described air pollution as ‘an invisible killer’ and explained that road transport emissions are often more dangerous than those from other sources, as they occur at ground level and in cities, near people. Experts say children are more at risk from pollution because toxins stay inside their bodies longer, and that a ban on parents sitting in their cars at the school gates would have a significant effect on reducing children’s exposure to pollution.

Tragic consequences

Experts know the level of air pollution to be a major risk factor for childhood asthma. In 2017, 1,320 people died of asthma in England and Wales—a 25% rise in one decade.

Alison Cook, Director of Policy and Communications for the British Lung Foundation, said:

“Toxic air is linked to asthma and chronic chest problems, and damage to the lungs in early age is irreversible.

“That’s why illegal levels of pollution around schools is hugely worrying.

“Banning cars from school gates will help reduce pollution in classrooms, but this is just a drop in the ocean. Action on [a] local and national level is needed to help people move to cleaner forms of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport.”

In February 2013, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s nine-year-old daughter Ella died from an asthma attack.

Ms Kissi-Debrah says the high levels of air pollution where they lived and where Ella went to school, were to blame. The family lived next to one of London’s busiest roads 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham, South East London.

After Professor Stephen Holgate found spikes in air pollution corresponded with Ella’s 27 asthma-induced hospitalisations episodes, Rosamund campaigned hard and now has approval for a second inquest into her daughter’s death. If conclusive, Ms Kissi-Debrah wants air pollution added to the death certificate. If this happens, it will be the first time air pollution has appeared on a death certificate.

Last year we wrote about the Mayor of London’s plan to reduce vehicle emissions across the capital, by introducing a 24-hour Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) this April.

Earlier this month, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan spoke about his new green fund to help schools fight toxic air with ‘pollution barriers’ in the playground.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

“It is unacceptable that our filthy air is affecting the lung growth and respiratory health of our young children, especially those who go to school by busy, polluted roads.

“My funding will help create much needed new spaces for communities to enjoy and help reduce toxic pollution with green barriers in and around schools to protect our children from polluted air.”

‘Just get out and walk’

Many are worried that banning the school run as we know it will only shift the problem elsewhere, but as Jenny Wiles from the walking charity Living Streets said last summer; an awful lot of families live close enough to school to walk the whole way and so where possible they encourage people to ‘just get out and walk and solve the problem completely’.

Some parents might even consider applying for their pre-school children to go to their most local school, negating the need for a car to get there. For those children who live too far from their schools to walk or those in rural areas, free transport is often available.

One thing looks certain; if parents and caregivers don’t make changes to lessen the traffic pollution around schools, somebody else will and the consequences for not complying with the rules could get expensive.

What do you think about the ban on driving children to the school gates? Is it necessary? Are parents time-pressed or lazy? Tell us your views in the comments.

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