Ban cars outside UK schools to tackle air pollution, teachers say

An exhaust pipe

 A PHE report said air pollution was the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK. Photograph: Focke Strangmann/EPA

Nearly two-thirds of teachers would support car-free roads outside schools during drop-off and pickup times, while more than half want the government to take urgent action to improve air quality outside schools, a survey suggests.

The study, in which 840 people in teaching roles across the UK participated, found that 63% would support a ban on motor vehicles outside the school gates at the start and end of the day.

One in three teachers are worried about air pollution, the survey for walking and cycling charity, Sustrans, found, with 43% saying idling car engines outside school gates concerned them. A further 63% said air pollution was a problem because their school was based on or near a busy main road.

The survey comes after a report from Public Health England called for measures aimed at improving air quality, including stopping cars idling near school gates, promoting car pool lanes, and providing priority parking for electric cars.

Published earlier this month, the report said air pollution was the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, with between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure.

“Idling is against the law and it must be implemented more forcefully,” said Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a teacher and air pollution advocate who has campaigned for a new inquest into her daughter Ella’s death’s links to air pollution. She is setting up a new grassroots movement, @Mumsforcleanerair to press the government to act.

“Councils should paint double yellow lines all round schools so no one is able to park, and local councils must help plan the closure of streets,” she told the Guardian. “Parents need to make their voices louder in support of their children.”

Xavier Brice, CEO of Sustrans, said: “We need to radically change the way we travel. Idling car engines and snarled-up roads poison the air and our children’s bodies across the UK. For too long now, dangerous levels of air pollution near schools have been ignored.

“Our survey makes it clear that teachers want urgent action to clean up toxic fumes. They see closing the roads outside their school as an effective solution but need support.”

When asked what would help reduce the levels of air pollution outside schools, 26% of teachers responding to the survey cited school road closures. Fifty-nine percent said a lack of alternative routes for traffic was one of the main issues preventing road closures.

Sophie Gallois, Unicef UK’s director of advocacy and communications, said it was worrying that children were most exposed to toxic air while at school and during the school run. She called for urgent action from the government, saying: “Every day, one in three children in the UK is breathing in harmful levels of air pollution that could damage their health and impact their future. A ban on motor vehicles outside the schools gates has potential to make a real difference.”

A government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to driving down emissions across all modes of transport, and recognise that greener travel options are a crucial way to clean up our air.”

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