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School parents are polluting

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Walking my dog past my local school each day, I’m amazed at the number of parents who clog the air with their sulphates and ignorance.

A long line of cars stand waiting either for the gates to open or for their kids to emerge, many with their engines running. And I recognise too many as cars from the village where the journey would have been less than half-a-mile.

Some parents arrive as much as 10 minutes before disgorging children from the heated ‘fug’ into the morning chill, or before the school ejects its contents at the end of the day.

A reader says parent motorists are polluting outside schools. (22888453)
A reader says parent motorists are polluting outside schools. (22888453)

When questioned, one woman told me: “Idling isn’t illegal. I’ve just passed my test and the Highway Code says I’m allowed to park with the engine running to keep my kids warm.”

She continued: “Anyway, one of my kids has a chest condition, so she needs to stay warm,” as though she had some special dispensation to exacerbate any condition that other children might have as they walk through her toxic fumes into school.

Even the professional drivers of school minibuses sit idling their engines as they wait outside the gates in the afternoon. You’d think they might know better. They should.

I dread to think that this is probably replicated outside every school in the UK. Why can’t parents drive up, stop, drop off and move on? Or park and switch off? Better still, they could walk or cycle their kids to school.

It is an absolute offence under Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The offence does not depend upon guilty knowledge. So it is not possible to mount a defence on the basis that a vehicle user did not know that the vehicle was in contravention of the regulations at the time.

All of this means that stationary idling is an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, an act that enforces rule 123 of the Highway Code, which states: “You MUST NOT leave a vehicle’s engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.”

It’s worth noting that comfort and convenience do not qualify as necessary!

An RAC survey revealed that 88 per cent of respondents said they had seen drivers parked on the side of the road with their engine running – 26 per cent said they witnessed people idling outside schools.

And a spokesperson from the Department for Transport has been noted saying: “We are determined to reduce the damaging environmental impacts of drivers who keep their engines running while stationary, especially those in school zones. . .”

Drivers found in breach of this law need to know it is punishable by a fine of £2,500 if the vehicle is a goods vehicle or adapted to carry more than 8 passengers, or £1,000 otherwise (Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 section 33 and Part I of Schedule 2 to that act).

An idling engine increases the amount of exhaust fumes emitted in the air and affects the environment and people’s health.

Car exhaust fumes contain poisonous gases, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons, benzene and diesel particulates. These gases are extremely toxic to the human body and can be fatal if inhaled too much.

The toxic impact of exhaust fumes on children’s health has been well documented recently, especially in city environments where school playgrounds adjoin main roads. But why import these issues to the clean air of the countryside?

And, as we continually hear, carbon dioxide is bad for the environment and contributes towards climate change, not to mention the floods and wild fires that result.

If every driver in the UK were to adopt the mantra ‘PASO’ – park and switch off – then everyone would be contributing positively to a better future. Every little helps.

And my final question: Why is it that the local council and the head teacher of the local village school failed to respond to my letters on this very subject? Does no-one give a damn?

Geoff Newham,

Tydd St Giles.

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