Renault has launched ‘Be Mindful, Don’t Idle’, a campaign that seeks to educate and improve air quality around schools after new research highlighted the problem.

A detailed new study by Renault has revealed worrying statistics around school run drivers. Renault studied the habits and attitudes of more than 4,000 ‘school run’ parents and motorists.

Citing the coronavirus pandemic as the predominant reason for doing so, 62% of parents saying they are now more likely to drive children to school rather than use public transport, intensifying the already dangerously high pollution levels around schools. Indeed, more than 8,500 school, nurseries, and colleges across England, Scotland, and Wales are in areas of this nature.

Alongside the rise in dependency on vehicles for the school run, over a quarter (27.2%) admitted to leaving their engines running (idling) during the school run. Men are 50% more likely to do it than female drivers, representing 32.7% and 22% respectively. Idling for just 10 seconds wastes more fuel than restarting the engine.

Among the reasons for leaving their engines running, nearly a third claimed it was because they are only stationary for ‘a short while’ and 26% wanted to keep the heater or air-con on.

Under Rule 123 of the Highways Code, idling is in fact illegal, a fact almost two-thirds (60%) of all drivers said they were unaware of. Authorities can now issue £80 fixed penalties under Road Traffic Regulations 2002 and Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in Scotland.

The biggest infrastructural challenge to idling was reported to be a lack of parking spaces near schools for parents to use. 23% said they needed to be ready to move their car into a suitable parking space. This issue was worse in urban areas at 60.9% compared 11.5% in rural locations.

Reasons for the school run were also examined in the study, with 30% dropping their children off by car because it’s on their way to work, 18% due to safety concerns and 12% with no other means of getting chidlren to school.

According to Renault, idling occurs most in built-up urban and suburban areas. Renault found that London accounted for the highest number of idling offenders at 22.5%.

A previous study by Kings College London in 2019 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.

Commenting on the findings, Matt Shirley, senior manager, electrification and new mobility said: “The fact that the majority of people don’t realise that idling is illegal just highlights the scale of the problem,”

“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.”

Research 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. During the country-wide lockdown asthma attacks in children dropped significantly due to a reduction in air pollution.  

To tackle the issue, a coalition has formed between 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.  

Supporting the coalition’s aim is a free online tool called The Clean Air Schools Framework’, providing tailored actions for tackling air pollution in and around the school (from its database of 50 actions). Teachers, headteachers, parents and local authorities are all encouraged to use the tool, but local authorities are especially being urged to use it and take action.

This is due to previous actions taken in the London Borough of Hackney, one of the leading community grassroots initiative proactively tackling air pollution and pioneer of School Streets.

The first four School Streets launched in the borough showed 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.