Schools can be seen as taking center stage on the issue of the harm and waste of unnecessary vehicle idling - on both sides of the coin. They represent the challenges in dealing with it and the opportunities of eliminating it. On the one side, the transportation network of school buses and other vehicles that serve the school environment presents the challenge of the need to protect the citizens of the school, particularly its students. Drivers must be made aware that idling on the school premises is a harmful practice. On the other side, schools present a tremendous opportunity to educate future motorists - before they acquire misinformed habits about idling, as well as the opportunity to change the behavior of adults - current motorists in the school community.
The EPA states: "Idling vehicles contribute to air pollution and emit air toxins, which are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects. Monitoring at schools has shown elevated levels of benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other air toxics during the afternoon hour coinciding with parents picking up their children. Children’s lungs are still developing, and when they are exposed to elevated levels of these pollutants, children have an increased risk of developing asthma, respiratory problems and other adverse health effects. Limiting a vehicle’s idling time can dramatically reduce these pollutants and children’s exposure to them."
To educate on the adverse effects of vehicle idling at schools, Idle-Free California recommends two approaches: idle-free classes and idle-free campaigns.
Idle-free classes are part of a curriculum taught in science, math, STEM, health, environment, and driver education classes. These sessions can include information on vehicle idling, negative impacts of idling (health, energy, carbon, economic) and even when idling can be necessary.
RESOURCES: Idle-Free VT Idle-Free from the Start, CoolMom No-Idle K-5 Curriculum, Sustainable Jersey Anti-Idling Education & Enforcement, Clean Cities Idlebox Toolkit for Idling Reduction Projects (PowerPoint)
Idle-free school campaigns address the issue of idling “hot spots” at many schools, for instance when parents pick up students in afternoon pick up areas (California regulates the idling of school buses and other heavy-duty vehicles at or near schools; light-duty vehicles are not regulated). The solution: science, math, STEM, health, and environmental teachers and their students conduct idle-free campaigns. These can be short-term projects in which data of idling vehicles is collected on school grounds, followed by an evaluation and an informational campaign to get the word out in the school community. A long-term effort can last most of the school year with unobtrusive data collection for one week in the fall, schools announcing support of an idle-free campaign in the school community in late fall, a driver contact event for several days in late winter, and final data collection for one week in spring (to determine a "before" and "after" difference). These campaigns are designed to be led by middle and high school students, allowing them to learn organizational, analytical and communication skills as they perform data analysis, be empowered by showing drivers the significant benefits in shutting off engines when parked, and take pride in making a positive difference in their school community.
RESOURCES: EPA Region 8 Idle Free Schools Toolkit, Spare the Air Turn the Key – Be Idle Free!, Grades of Green No Idle Zone, Idle-Free VT Idle-Free Schools Campaigns, Ace Alliance for Climate Education Idle-Free Schools Campaign
In 2016, the California legislature took an important step on behalf of school student health by adopting ACR 160. Sponsored by former assemblymember David Hadley, this non-binding resolution addresses the issue of vehicular air pollution, specifically motor vehicle idling and children. This measure encourages motorists to not idle their motor vehicles near places where children congregate.
Listing of known idle-free school campaigns or initiatives in California (TELL US YOURS!):
Organized by: Spare the Air, San Francisco
San Carlos School District, 2015 Article
Organized by: San Mateo County Safe Routes to School
Organized by: Grades of Green, El Segundo
Pittsburg Unified School District/Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School, 2016 Article
Organized by: Spare the Air, San Francisco
Most school buses are equipped with heavy-duty diesel engines. Thanks to EPA regulations and the Air Resources Board (ARB) Lower Emissions School Bus Program, the vast majority of California's 25,000+ school buses have lower emissions. The primary goal of this program is to reduce school children's exposure to both cancer-causing and smog-forming pollution. The program provides grant funding for new, cleaner, safer school buses and to put air pollution control equipment (i.e., retrofit devices) on buses that are already on the road.
Additionally, the California School Bus Idling and Idling at Schools Regulation limits idling of school buses and heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles greater than 10,000 pounds that operate at or near schools. This regulation is a big win, that not only protects school students and others from diesel exhaust, it reduces carbon emissions, conserves energy, and saves California taxpayers money in unburned fuel and lessened engine maintenance.
THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE: ELECTRIC SCHOOL BUSES. While still in their infancy, as production grows to lower costs, and battery capabilities improve, clean electric school buses are beginning to make inroads. And California is leading the way with new or retrofitted electric school buses being added to the fleets of the Gilroy Unified School District, Torrance Unified School District, Napa Unified School District, Edison School District (Bakersfield), and Kings Canyon Unified School District (Reedley).
Electric school bus at California State Capitol