Idling Ills

Idling Ills


by Andrew Wyllie

One question I often have as I walk past the line of people in their cars waiting to pick up their kids after school is how much gas is being burned by all of those idling engines and what the effects are on the local environment.

The problem seems to be the worse as it gets warmer.

The kids will be outside playing in their end of the day recess on the playground beside this big line of cars waiting for pick ups. All the cars will have their engines running so that they can run their air conditioners. I remember one day when I found my son feeling sick to his stomach right after school. He was playing third base and the foul line runs parallel to the car pick up line which usually starts forming about twenty minutes before school gets out. So the whole time the kids were out playing kickball, they were breathing in the exhaust from the cars in the pick up line.

I think everyone knows by now that car exhaust has some pretty nasty stuff in it. Ground level ozone is one of the primary pollutants in the Lexington area. It comes from car exhaust and is known to cause asthma which is particularly dangerous for young kids. There are a number of other pollutants: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, suspended particles (this is stuff that gets stuck in your lungs), benzene, formaldehyde and don’t forget polycyclic hydrocarbons – all of these have adverse health affects including asthma, heart disease and cancer. This website talks more specifically about the effects of some of these pollutants:

It turns out that that the average car burns roughly a gallon of gas every hour it idles depending on the type of engine and whether the A/C is on. Say the typical wait time at the local school is about fifteen minutes and there are roughly sixty cars in the line up, that would translate to about fifteen gallons of gas being burned per day per school. If the price of a gallon of gas is around two dollars, that works out to about thirty dollars a day or $150 a week or about $6000 a year per school (assuming 40 weeks of school). How about this, instead of sitting around burning your money (and making the oil companies richer), you could turn off your car and make a donation to the school.

The thing that really bugs me about this though is why it even happens in the first place. Is it really that difficult to just park the car somewhere and walk over to the school to pick up your kid? How do you feel about releasing all these toxins into the atmosphere right beside children playing? I would strongly encourage parents that feel they need to drive to pick up their kids to turn off their cars while waiting in the pick up line. Even better would be to leave the car at home, especially on nice days, and just walk or ride a bike. You and your kids will be better off for it.


  1. I couldn’t agree more. Parking your car and walking a few blocks with your child would help the American childhood obesity epidemic as well.

  2. A lot of kids in Fayette county could walk the whole way to school if it wasn’t so dangerous. I’m not talking about sexual predators though, I’m talking about people who don’t feel the need to actually stop at a stop sign or drive 35mph through a school zone. I walk with my kids all the time and we’ve had a number of close calls with cell phone wielding manics, looking the other direction as they blow through a stop sign and crosswalk.

  3. Absolutely Mari, if there were sidewalks. It would also help if school did not start at 7:45am. They start that early becasue of the school buses – but, if they started later, maybe more kids would walk and they would need fewer school buses. Also, if fewer parents drove their kids, there would be less traffic around the schools which would make it a lot safer for the kids to walk.

    I think I started walking to school by myself when I was in grade three. That was in Toronto which is ten times bigger than Lexington. There is no way I would let my third grader walk to school here by themself.

  4. Amen. I live right near Cassidy elementary, and I avoid Hart Rd. like the plague when school lets out. So many more kids could walk to school than do. (And I totally agree on the driver thing. Lexington has the worst drivers I’ve ever seen.)

    One afternoon I was downtown doing some stuff, and I was parked on Jefferson. I made the mistake of finishing my errands just before school let out. There were cars lined up outside that elementary school there, all of them idling, and I was blocked in for 15 minutes. Luckily, I had time to kill. [insert eye roll]

  5. *I* would walk more if we had more sidewalks. As it is, I have to walk a block or two in any given direction to find a sidewalk – then I have to worry about he sidewalk running out before I get where I’m going. It’s ridiculous.