Vehicle idling can be harmful, wasteful and largely unnecessary. At many of America's more than 130,000 public schools, collectively, prolonged idling by passenger vehicles occurs as parents drop off and pick up students every school day. The pick up period is when most of this idling occurs as vehicles queue up prior to dismissal for 15 to 30 minutes.

 

This idling at schools mimics cars waiting in a drive-thru at fast food and coffee outlets, or at a bank, hence, the project name: Schools Are Not Drive-Thrus. We are also making a statement that this harmful and wasteful practice should not occur, especially at schools where the negative impact of toxic tailpipe chemicals from a caravan of idling vehicles not only contributes to climate change and fossil fuel use, it affects children whose lungs are still developing.

SCHOOLS ARE NOT DRIVE-THRUS© PROJECT

Green Driving America's Schools Are Not Drive-Thrus© is a funded environmental and health service project with a goal of implementing idle-free schools campaigns spanning SIX TO TEN WEEKS with participating elementary, middle, and high schools, for the 2023-2024-2025 school year semesters.

 

THIS IS A FUNDED PROJECT; IT IS AT NO COST TO SCHOOLS

EDUCATORS: Contact Wayne Michaud, Green Driving America executive director, upon interest in having your school participate in these campaigns: info@greendrivingamerica.org or 916-209-0224.

HIGH SCHOOL AND MIDDLE SCHOOL LEVELS (grades 6-12): Green Driving America works with science, math, STEM, health, and environmental teachers, and school environmental clubs and green teams, in student-led campaigns.

 

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LEVEL (grade 5; other grades can be discussed): Green Driving America works with teachers and parents* to engage school staff and students in the campaigns.

 

*parent clubs/PTOs are encouraged to join in participation!

WHY IDLE-FREE SCHOOLS CAMPAIGNS?

Idling caravans, such as in drive-thrus and during school dismissals, cause idling “hot spots”, increasing toxicity around the vehicles

 

This project gets to the core of an environmental and health problem and how to address it without it being a sophisticated, technological solution to reducing transportation GHG emissions. This is a "nuts and bolts" behavioral solution that shows drivers the compelling reasons sitting in a car and idling for 15 to 30 minutes is a virtually unnecessary practice except during weather extremes*, such as less than 32º (keeping in mind that a warmed up vehicle will retain most of its cabin heat for up to ten minutes; be prepared with warm winter clothing) or more than 80º (try to park in the shade and/or avoid air conditioning and open windows; the hottest temperatures in most regions occur when school is closed during the summer). Simply turn off the key.

 

*Idling can be necessary in weather extremes for frail elderly, infant and pet passengers.

 

THE MATH: based on observations in previously conducted Green Driving America idle-free schools projects, it can be estimated that on average 50 cars wait for 15 minutes or more during dismissal at one school and that 35 of them are idling. Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, so 35 cars idling for 15 minutes can burn more than three gallons in one dismissal period. Not a real big deal. But over a 180 day school year, this idling can consume up to 600 gallons of fuel. That can be up to six tons of CO2 emitted. Per school. That's significant, especially since most of this idling is unnecessary. Let us then imagine how much fuel is burned and CO2 emitted by idling vehicles at America's 130,000 schools, annually. Fuel burned: 65,000,000 gallons; CO2 emitted: 650,000 tons. But even more important is to keep in mind the health impact on children.

 

The U.S. EPA Region 8's Idle-Free Schools Toolkit for a Healthy School Environment states: "Idling vehicles contribute to air pollution and emit air toxins, which are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects. Monitoring at schools has shown elevated levels of benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other air toxics during the afternoon hour coinciding with parents picking up their children. Children’s lungs are still developing, and when they are exposed to elevated levels of these pollutants, children have an increased risk of developing asthma, respiratory problems and other adverse health effects. Limiting a vehicle’s idling time can dramatically reduce these pollutants and children’s exposure to them."

 

IDLING MYTHS: — BUSTED!

 

IDLING MYTH #1: IT'S BETTER TO IDLE FOR A MINUTE OR TWO THAN SHUTTING OFF AND RESTARTING

FACT: For light-duty gas vehicles such as compacts, sedans, SUVS and pickups, idling for more than ten seconds uses more fuel and emits more CO2 than shutting the engine off and restarting

 

IDLING MYTH #2: RESTARTING AN ENGINE UP TO TEN TIMES A DAY WILL SHORTEN THE LIFE OF A STARTER

FACT: Starters are "over-built". They are extremely durable and are designed to last for more than 30,000 starting cycles. The general rule is to not restart an engine more than ten times a day*; during the school dismissal waiting period, shutting off and restarting an engine more than several times is rarely necessary

 

MORE IDLING FACTS

 

*For vehicles not equipped with an auto stop/start system that shuts off an engine at a traffic light, for safety reasons, do not shut off an engine manually while waiting for a traffic light to turn green

 

SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL INTEGRATION

 

In the interest of encouraging alternatives to the CO2 emissions and air pollution impacts of vehicular traffic—both on school grounds and commuting to school—the Schools Are Not Drive-Thrus project encourages schools participating in our campaigns to integrate a Safe Routes to School program: a movement that aims to make it safer and easier for students to walk and bike to school.

SCHOOL CAMPAIGNS 2022-2023

 

CARLMONT HIGH SCHOOL - California  •  EAGLE PEAK MIDDLE SCHOOL - California

 

WOODSTOCK UNION HIGH SCHOOL & MIDDLE SCHOOL - Vermont

PREVIOUS IDLE-FREE SCHOOLS PROJECTS

In the 2017-18 school year, when the organization was called Idle-Free California, a pilot project, Sacramento County Idle-Free Schools, was implemented at two schools.

 

And from 2014-16, when the organization was located in Vermont and called Idle-Free VT, we implemented Vermont Idle-Free Schools funded measured campaigns at 11 schools.

 

Fourteen of these 16 campaigns have included "before" and "after" measuring, and have combined to reduce idling at participating schools by

more than 40 percent overall, with the seven most recent campaigns reducing idling by 49 percent.

Data collection of all school campaigns are included on these linked pages.

HOW CAMPAIGNS WORK

THESE ARE FOUR-STEP EDUCATIONAL CAMPAIGNS, RUNNING SIX TO TEN WEEKS

 

Step 1: In late summer/early fall school semester or late winter/early spring school semester, an initial training session is conducted in the classroom either virtually (such as with Zoom) by Green Driving America, or in-person by the teacher An approximately 45-minute PowerPoint and videos presentation (see below) shows: what idling means, its impact, touching on alternatives to being driven to school, such as Safe Routes to School, and how a campaign works. Campaign materials are provided, including:

• Downloadable documents below for students and teacher/advisor containing full details of the campaign steps including conducting measuring data collection (Step 2), the school administration roll in the campaign (Step 3) and procedure for the Driver Contact Event (Step 4)

• Provided1 reflective aluminum idle-free zone signs; two per school - installed by the school

• Provided1 idle-free flyer handouts and window cling decal handouts

 

Step 2: Following Step 1, three to six students (student-led from grade six and up; staff/parent-led below grade six) will conduct three days of data collection unobtrusively2 to determine the number of vehicles waiting during the dismissal period and to determine as best as possible how many are idling and for how long.3 It is strongly encouraged that these students/staff/parents begin conducting this measuring at least 15 minutes prior to official dismissal time and continue the process until all vehicles have departed.

 

Step 3: Soon following Step 2, the school announces support for the idle-free campaign in the school community, including a notice in a school newsletter and website, and a letter and pledge form to parents. The school installs provided idle-free zone signs in strategic areas.

 

Step 4: In later fall or mid spring—the final step of the campaign—a two-day "Driver Contact Event" is conducted by students/staff/parents to raise awareness of the idling issue with drivers. Ahead of the event, campaigners will create idle-free posters to display. All drivers, whether idling or not4, are offered information handouts and anti-idling window cling decals (middle / high school students practice this "contact" ahead of time with staff / parents). For drivers who are idling, they are asked to read the handout and to consider turning off the engine.

PUBLICIZING CAMPAIGN: ahead of the event, GDA and the school teacher/advisor will work with the school administration or school district's communications office in seeking TV, radio, print and/or social media coverage.

NOTE: for safety purposes, it is highly recommended that students, who will be walking amongst cars in pick up areas, wear safety vests.

 

Optional Step 5: Conducting a second measuring step to determine a before and after difference. This option is for campaigns that start in the fall semester only. This three days of remeasuring would occur in a similar temperature range as initial measuring for a comparable data set. So, if initial measuring were conducted between mid September and mid October, the second measuring would best be conducted between mid April and mid May. This step is optional as Green Driving America has already conducted 15 long-term idle-free schools campaigns that included "before" and "after" measuring to determine a more than 40 percent reduction in idling overall; the most recent seven campaigns have reduced idling by 49 percent.

 

 

After campaign completion, school administration is provided a PDF containing full information on how to sustain this effort in following school years, and consideration for a school idle reduction policy or practice.

 

1Shipped to the school

2Why unobtrusively? Drivers should not be informed a vehicle idling study is being conducted as some may turn off engines, skewing the results. Students can tell drivers they are conducting a general transportation study for the school, if asked.

3OPTIONAL: Schools that possess a CO2 or CO gas sensor, or other emissions analyzer, and a compatible interface, are welcome to collect supplemental emissions data from vehicles.

4Thank drivers who are not idling. Additionally, try to identify cleaner vehicles that seldom idle (full hybrids like a Toyota Prius) or do not idle at all (electric vehicles such as a Tesla, Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf) and thank these drivers as well.

NOTE: School buses are not included in these campaigns as most states regulate the idling of school buses and other heavy-duty vehicles at or near schools; passenger vehicles in most states are not regulated.

 

LOGISTICALLY, HOW IDLING DURING DISMISSAL PERIOD CAN BE REDUCED BY 80%

 

NOTE: Each school's campaign will be updated on this website as it progresses.

TRAINING SESSION PRESENTATION DETAILS (Step 1)

For elementary, middle, and high school educators:

 

Below are video images (advancing in 12 seconds each) of the full, animated Schools Are Not Drive-Thrus© slide presentation for our idle-free schools campaigns initial training sessions (in its current developed form) that will be given, along with three or more videos. NOTE: most slides include notes that the presenter will use to elaborate upon.

 

NOTE: The full, animated Schools Are Not Drive-Thrus PowerPoint that will be shown is copyrighted and the property of Green Driving America Inc. It may not be used or recorded without permission. The other videos below are open source and may be freely used.

MATERIALS FOR CAMPAIGN (Steps 2, 3, & 4)

FOR CAMPAIGNERS, TEACHER/ADVISOR, and SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION:

Downloadable documents in WORD or PDF

 

STEP 2: INITIAL OBSERVATIONS AND MEASURING for campaigners and teacher/advisor

Conducting observations/measuring (WORD)

Observation/measuring form (WORD)

Analyzing the data (WORD)

Format for calculating data (WORD)

 

STEP 3: SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION:

Green Driving America will work with school administration to provide two Idle Free Zone signs that the school will have installed. School administration will take action in the school community with the following documents

Announce idle-free campaign (WORD)

Letter to parents (WORD)

Pledge form for parents (WORD)

 

STEP 4: DRIVER CONTACT EVENT

How to conduct driver contact event (WORD)

Suggested script for driver contact event (WORD)

NOTE: 35 anti-idling window cling decal handouts and 50 8.5"x11" flyer handouts shipped to participating schools

 

SUSTAINING THE EFFORT IN FOLLOWING SCHOOL YEARS: SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION

Sustaining school's idle-free effort (PDF)

THE DIFFERENCE THESE CAMPAIGNS MAKE

WHY AN IDLE-FREE SCHOOLS PROJECT? The goal to mitigate idling on school grounds is a real win-win! The benefits:

• Based on GDA past idle-free schools measured campaigns, idling has been reduced by

more than 40 percent overall, with the seven most recent campaigns reducing idling by 49 percent

• People's health—particularly of students—is protected

• Carbon emissions and energy consumption is reduced

• Students, depending on their grade, learn organizational, analytical and communication skills as they perform data analysis, are empowered by showing drivers the significant benefits in shutting off engines when parked, and take pride in making a positive difference in their school community

• Motorists, learning about saving money in needless fuel use, engine wear, and maintenance, will potentially practice idle reduction beyond schools

 

SUSTAINING THESE EFFORTS IN PROCEEDING YEARS: Green Driving America provides participating schools a written guideline to help sustain these efforts. Schools or school districts in proceeding years are strongly encouraged to reinforce the message of idle free zone signs to remind the school community about the benefits in idle reduction several times each year, and to consider adopting policies, procedures, or handbook rules that limit idling on school grounds.

SCHOOLS: RUN YOUR OWN IDLE-FREE CAMPAIGNS

Green Driving America's basic guideline for their idle-free schools campaigns comes from the U.S. EPA Region 8 Idle-Free Schools Toolkit for a Healthy School Environment. For schools interested in implementing their own campaigns, this is a complete resource to do so.