What if I told you that your child's greatest exposure to toxic air pollution is on the way to and from school? In the environment where our children should be safe and protected, they are often breathing in dangerous emissions from idling cars and buses ( engine idling is when the car engine is running while the vehicle is stationary, such as at a red light) parked in school grounds. And this daily exposure can lead to asthma and allergies, and is also linked with delayed learning.
And all it takes to solve it is a flick of the wrist!
The Idle Off project
Realising this problem (and simple solution) spurred me to co-found the Idle Off project. It's a newly-launched free online resource that helps secondary students identify the harmful health impacts of idling vehicles in their school grounds and create a plan to get parents and bus drivers to switch off their engines while parked.
Idling engines release harmful toxins
An idling vehicle releases a mix of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and other toxins into the space at the rear of a vehicle—the same space our children stand to load their school bags in the boot.This particulate matter consists of tiny airborne particles, the smallest of which penetrates young lungs and crosses into the bloodstream, causing a range of serious health effects such as diabetes, lung cancer and respiratory infections. You may think your daily drive is only a small part of a much bigger emissions problem, but the cars we drive everyday contribute to half of Australia's transport emissions and are a major contributor to outdoor air pollution. In fact, transport emissions are linked to 1715 Australian and 399 New Zealand early deaths each year—numbers that are greater than the annual accident road toll but without any of the highly visible prevention campaigns.
Just like cigarette smoke, vehicle emissions linger
Every morning and afternoon, at every school campus across Australia, there are countless parents and bus drivers in idling vehicles waiting for students.For years I've noticed them and for years, I've been the mum at school asking other parents to Idle Off (turn their car off when stopped and waiting for pick up) , with some interesting responses;
"It's a brand new car, it has filters."
"I need to make a phone call via bluetooth."
"It's a warm day, I need the cooling on."
And even; "The exhaust gets blown away from the car."
The emissions from your car exhaust linger – you can't see them, but we're breathing them in as long as your car is idling.
Put simply, there's no safe level of exposure when it comes to vehicle emissions.
Solving Australia's idling problem is pretty easy
It's as simple as turning your engine off when parked and encouraging people around you to do the same. Sharing the simple Idle Off message is one of the most powerful ways we can start breathing easier.
How to get involved in the Idle Off Project
Sharing that message is exactly what the Idle Off Project website encourages students to do.
A series of downloadable project sheets that have been crafted over many months by a small team of co-founders from the future mobility and health sectors, all of whom are passionate about getting this issue into a national spotlight.
Idle Off has been designed to allow students to work independently, in groups or individually, over any amount of time and with simple, inexpensive equipment that can be found in most classrooms.
We're looking for pilot school groups and students in every state to become Idle Off scientists; to test the project and provide data and feedback so we can start measuring exactly how prevalent Australia's addiction to idling is.
If you are a high school student, a teacher or parent interested in sharing the message, please head to idleoff.com.au or get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Emma Sutcliffe
Emma Sutcliffe is the Director of EVUp, an electric vehicle charging and consultancy company based in Melbourne, and the proud co-founder of the Idle Off Project.