Do you sit in your car with the engine running while you wait to collect your children after school?

Under new proposals to cut pollution, such ‘idling’ could be banned outside schools, as well as hospitals and other places where people may be particularly vulnerable to air pollution.

The proposed ban is among several recommendations to cut pollution in a new report from Public Health England (PHE), the government’s public health agency. The report says that man-made air pollution causes between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths each year, with children, older people and people with chronic health problems the most vulnerable to air pollution.

"We should stop idling outside schools and we should make sure that children can walk or cycle to school,” said PHE medical director Paul Cosford.

Growing battle against idling

There are already several campaigns across the UK to end idling in places such as schools.

Among them is campaign group Mums for Clean Air, which in response to PHE’s proposals, tweeted: “Parents, grandparents, child minders, nannies, anyone who does the school run must support this now. The evidence on the impact on children’s health is conclusive and it can be avoided.”

In Greater Manchester, primary school pupils have started patrolling the streets outside their schools dressed as police officers, issuing fake tickets to parents sitting with their engines running. Sheffield Council last year introduced no-idling zones outside schools, with the threat of £20 fines. And in Glasgow, stronger measures are being tried, with seven primary schools to trial car-free zones for 18 months to improve road safety. 

Meanwhile, an initiative in the capital is attempting to change London motorists’ behaviour. Vehicle Idling Action says when its volunteers approach idling drivers in a friendly and non-judgemental way, over four-fifths (80%) of them switch off their engines and many pledge to give up the idling habit for good.

Idling is already an offence

Many drivers may not be aware that idling is already an offence. While you can leave your engine running in traffic, the Highway Code says: “You must not leave a parked vehicle unattended with the engine running or leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.”

Instead, apply the parking brake and switch off the engine to reduce emissions and noise pollution, the code says.

The RAC recommends that motorists turn off their engines if they think they are not going to move for around two minutes. 

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Other measures to cut air pollution

A ban on idling isn’t the only action PHE wants to cut air pollution. Its other suggestions for local authorities include: 

  • Invest more in foot and cycle paths.
  • Plan towns so people aren’t so close to highly polluting roads, for example with wider streets or using hedges as screens against pollutants.
  • Consider low emission or clean air zones to discourage the most highly polluting vehicles from entering populated areas. Several UK cities are already doing this; for example, to help tackle dangerously high levels of air pollution in central London, drivers of more polluting cars, including most diesels, will have to pay a new daily fee from April this year.
  • Set more ambitious targets for electric vehicle charging points and encourage low emission fuels and electric cars.
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