The days of driving your child to school could soon be at an end if clean air campaigners get their way.

The Swap The School Run For A School Walk report, submitted to the government, outlined 21 recommendations to make it easier for children to walk to and from school, including a call for a ban on cars at the school gates at drop-off and pick-up times.

Government in the dock

UK charity Living Streets, whose mission is to achieve a better walking environment and inspire people to walk more, has delivered a report to the Transport Minister, Jesse Norman, asking for the government to take urgent action to improve the walk to school.

Jenni Wiggle, Living Streets Director of Local Impact said “We would like to see more local authorities working with schools to ban people from driving up to the school gate – adding to air pollution, congestion and road danger during drop-off and pick-up. Walking to school not only improves our air quality but is a great way for children to build more exercise into their daily lives, helping them to arrive to school healthier, happier and ready to learn.”

Only last week The European Commission announced that it will refer the UK government to the Court of Justice of the European Union for continuing to ignore levels of air pollution.

New figures from the Department of Transport have shown that cars used for the school run account for one in four cars on the road at peak times. This comes only one year after a joint investigation by the Guardian and Greenpeace’s UK’s journalism project Unearthed announced that thousands of children were being subjected to threatening levels of air pollution outside teaching and care facilities.

Killer statistics

  • Over 1,000 nurseries in England and Wales, which look after 47,000 babies and children, sit within 150 metres of a road that is breaching legal limits of NO2 from diesel traffic.
  • Air pollution causes long-term health issues and debilitating diseases and results in 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK.
  • A study of 11,000 children in the US confirmed that children living within 500 metres of busy roads had reduced lung growth compared to children living over 1,500 metres from such roads. It also establised that children exposed to high levels of NO2 had a higher chance of getting asthma.

Diesel vehicles most responsible

Leaders of eight cities with a serious air pollution problem labelled the government’s new clean air plan as inadequate. Campaigners said a ban on petrol and diesel cars from 2040 wouldn’t help the thousands of people dying every year from illnesses linked to deadly exhaust fumes.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Industry Commissioner, said: “We will only succeed in fighting urban air pollution if the car sector plays its part. Manufacturers that keep disregarding the law have to bear the consequences of their wrongdoing.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We are determined to make cycling the natural choice of transport for people of all ages and backgrounds, and we want to increase the number of children that usually walk to school. This government recognises for those living in rural areas there may be few alternatives to driving to school, which is why we are also investing £3.5bn in green transport [and] encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles, which will also improve air quality.”

Children are extremely susceptible to air pollution as their exposure is often greater and they absorb and keep pollutants in the body for longer, say experts.

Alison Cook, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Lung Foundation said that toxic air is linked to asthma and chronic chest problems, and damage to the lungs in early age is irreversible. Illegal levels of pollution around schools is worrying, and while banning cars from school gates will help reduce pollution in classrooms and playgrounds but will that make a big enough difference? Ms. Cook added that action on local and national level is needed to help people move to cleaner forms of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport.

Rosie Rogers, Senior Political Advisor at Greenpeace said: “Ministers’ apathy on this issue so far has been nothing short of a dereliction of duty. Michael Gove should swiftly come up with a clear plan to tackle the diesel vehicles responsible for most roadside toxic pollution and an outright ban on the sale of petrol, diesel cars and vans from 2030.”

Changing the tradition

For years parents have done the school run with many walking their children to school on a daily basis, talking to other parents and getting the latest information from the teacher. In more recent years, thanks to Ofsted ratings, parents are driving their children out from their local schools to ones that are rated higher in the hopes of ensuring their child has a better education.

Could one simple change that the campaign has missed out on be sticking to a school within walking distance of the house? Most people growing up walked to school unless they were in rural areas, and then some got the bus. There are often grants for families with young children who need bus passes and some counties offer minibus service for primary school age children.

Do you do the school run? Are your children affected by air pollution near their schools? Do you agree with the proposed ban? Let us know in the comments.