Limiting idling at school drop-off and pick-up zones can reduce air pollution, study finds

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Picking up and dropping off kids quickly can improve air quality

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Utah explored how parents who idle at school drop-off and pick-up lines can impact air quality and air pollution.

According to their findings, when schools implement rules to limit how long parents are allowed to idle during these high-traffic times, they’re likely to reduce unhealthy air pollution and improve air quality. 

“Idling at schools during drop-off and pick-up times is a substantial problem,” said researcher Daniel Mendoza. “The anti-idling campaign was effective in reducing not only the number of vehicles idling but also the length of idling.” 

Improving air pollution near schools

This study was conducted in two parts. For the first part, the researchers used a van with air sensors to monitor pollution while parked outside of two Utah elementary schools during drop-off and pick-up times for a week. The second part of the study utilized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Idle-Free Schools Toolkit. The team analyzed the effect of two schools that had implemented anti-idling campaigns during pick-up and drop-off times. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that the anti-idling campaign was effective in two ways. The team found that cars spent nearly 40% less time idling in front of schools after the campaigns; the number of cars idling dropped by 11% after the campaign. 

The researchers explained that consumers are likely to keep their cars idling at school drop-off and pick-up to keep the temperature in their cars comfortable for them and their kids. However, the team says idling for too long can use up gas and create additional air pollution. 

The study showed that there were spikes in air pollution levels during times that were consistent with school drop-off and pick-up times, and the researchers attribute this to cars idling for extended periods of time. It’s also important to note that the areas by school playgrounds didn’t experience these upticks in pollution; this was localized strictly to the areas designated for drop-off and pick-up. 

While parents certainly make up a large portion of these pollution levels, the researchers also cite another key player in the pollution near schools: school buses. 

“It is not only parents but also school buses that have been culprits of localized pollution hotspots around schools,” said Mendoza. “However, parents are a completely different story.” 

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