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Call to turn off car engines at school pick-up to protect kids’ health

Kieran Rooney, August 1, 2021 2:30PM Herald Sun

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Long lines of cars are a common sight at school pick-ups, prompting calls for parents to turn off their engines to protect kids from air pollution. Picture: Stuart Milligan media_cameraLong lines of cars are a common sight at school pick-ups, prompting calls for parents to turn off their engines to protect kids from air pollution. Picture: Stuart Milligan


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Parents could be made to turn off their cars at school pick-ups, with scientists warning pollution from idling* engines is damaging children’s health.

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry into air pollution has been told Australia is decades behind other countries, where laws protect the air kids breathe.

Our rising population and traffic congestion were creating a perfect storm* for asthma and other health problems, the experts warned.

As an immediate first step, the experts urged the government to stop parents from keeping their ­engines running as they waited to pick up their children.

But they said long-term solutions were also needed, including restrictions on childcare centres on busy roads.

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Clare Walter, a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s lung health research centre, said international studies had shown a 300 per cent increase in local pollution at pick-up time.

“That line of cars idling their engines outside the school creates a very localised high pollution area for those children,” she said.

“An exposure* measured in minutes is enough to precipitate* an asthma attack in children and a heart attack in adults.

“By reducing the idling you’re reducing those peak ­exposures in the day, so it does make a difference.

“It’s important to understand that alone won’t be enough. It’s a starting point.”

Dangerous crossing at Blairmount Primary School media_cameraInternational studies have shown that local pollution increases by 300 per cent at school pick-up times.

Ms Walter said it was common to see long lines of cars idling while parents made work calls and waited for ­students.

“The children then have to walk through that plume* of vehicle exhaust in order to get to the crossing,” she said.

“As a risk factor for premature* death or disease in Australia, air pollution ranks higher than second-hand ­exposure to tobacco.

“Yet you wouldn’t have a line of parents smoking cigarettes and blowing it into children’s faces as they walked out of the school gate. That’s not socially acceptable.”

BRISBANE STATE SCHOOL media_cameraResearcher Clare Walter says Australia is well behind other countries in protecting children from air pollution. Picture: Annette Dew

Ms Walter said Australia was well behind other countries. “In most states in America it’s now illegal to idle your engine unnecessarily and the original driver* for that legislation was the protection of children’s health,” she said.

“In California it’s been more than 20 years since they implemented* a suite* of policies. This included buffer zones for schools and major roads, cleaner school buses and anti-idling laws outside schools.

“That range of mitigation* strategies has subsequently been associated with increased lung function in three cohorts* of children over 20 years.

“Which means the children are growing bigger lungs … which in turn is associated with lifelong health benefits.”


  • idling: when the engine is running but the car is not in gear and moving
  • perfect storm: a bad situation caused by a combination of things happening at the same time or coming together
  • exposure: a situation where someone is not protected from something harmful or dangerous
  • precipitate: cause something to happen suddenly
  • plume: a long cloud of something like smoke or exhaust fumes that rises into the air
  • premature: earlier than should have happened
  • tobacco: the substance in cigarettes, that creates dangerous fumes when lit
  • driver: the reason that something happened
  • implemented: brought something into effect
  • suite: a number of things that together make a series
  • mitigation: the reduction of the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something
  • cohorts: groups of people with something in common, like age


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  1. What do scientists want parents to do when they wait to pick up their children from school?
  2. How much does local pollution increase at pick-up times, according to international studies?
  3. What medical condition can exposure to car fumes at school pick-up times cause in children?
  4. Researcher Clare Walter says air pollution poses a bigger risk of premature death than exposure to what?
  5. Which university is Clare Walter from?


1. Write a Jingle
A jingle is a short, catchy song that is used in advertising. The best jingles stick in your mind after you hear them, have a clear message and are easy to remember.

Write a jingle or rap that will help parents to remember to turn their car engine off when they are waiting to pick their kids up from school.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education, Science, Personal and Social Capability

2. Extension
In the story, Clare Walter says that stopping cars idling alone “won’t be enough. It’s a starting point.”

Can you think of other things that can be done to help protect kids from pollution around your school? Write a list of as many ideas that you can think of.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Health and Physical Education, Personal and Social Capability, Civics and Citizenship

School Traffic Control
The school council has asked for your ideas on ways to improve traffic flow in and around your school.

Think about all the different school access points, as well as the fact that everyone is being released at the same time. But also remember that a lot of families have multiple siblings at the school, so your ideas must take into account multiple siblings in different year levels.

You’ll need to consider any bus routes, and houses or shops in the area as well.

Do you have any ideas on how to better control school traffic so that cars are not sitting waiting with their engines running and causing pollution?

Make a list of your ideas, including any diagrams with labels that might be useful.

Pick your favourite idea to present to school council.

It would also be a good idea to include any problems that you thought of, and overcame, in case the school council has any questions.

Using openers like “Now you might be thinking …” or “I’ve also taken into consideration …” will help you share these problems and their solutions.

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