Banning cars and idling around schools: What impact will this have on air quality and how will councils enforce this measure?


It has been reported in the media that several London boroughs, including Westminster, Islington and Croydon, are trialling ‘School Streets’ which is an initiative to get cars off the road in the immediate proximity of primary schools.

This is an important initiative as over 802 schools, nurseries and colleges in London are reported to have illegal levels of toxic air.

Additionally, around 30 councils have recently announced they are taking measures to enforce a ban on idling (keeping the engine running whilst parked) in a further bid to tackle air pollution on our streets.

And it’s not just London councils that are considering ‘School Streets’, up and down the country, councils are discussing the prospect of banning cars on school streets during drop-off and pick-up times.

Hackney Council has in fact published a ‘School Streets’ toolkit that is to be sent to every council in the country, giving advice on how to execute, manage, and enforce banning of vehicles at school drop-off and pick-up times.

Whilst this is a public health issue for all of us, it is far more critical for our children, whose lungs are still developing. With air pollution linked to mental illness, anti-social behaviour, decreased life expectancy, lung disease, dementia and more, action needs to be taken, and it seems finally the extent of this public health crisis is starting to be addressed.

Despite perhaps some thinking this may be an unpopular idea, a trial of this scheme around 10 Croydon schools recently received 70% support, and charities such as Sustrans, are actively partnering with schools to help ‘transform the school run’.

Fumes from car exhaust

Benefits of banning cars outside schools:

Reduced Air Emissions
With no cars in the immediate proximity of schools, the air quality around them will be greatly improved at the times when children and staff are most at risk.

Increased Road Safety
With over 1,000 children a month injured on roads around schools, removing cars on the street immediately outside the schools will make it safer for children.

More active travel
With child obesity levels at their highest ever levels, any steps that can be made to promote activity and active modes of travel will be advantageous to health, providing the children’s journeys are not alongside heavily polluted roads.

What potential disadvantages are there for enforcing a ban of cars around schools?

Whilst closing streets during school drop-off and pick-up times might sound a logical answer to protect our children, logistically there are several things to consider.

Increased traffic in neighbouring streets
Despite ‘School Streets’ increasing active travel, some children will still be driven to school. Will closing one street result in increased traffic locally, perhaps on the roads children use to walk to school? What steps will councils need to make to ensure this doesn’t happen? We believe Clean Air Zones are still necessary to get the worst polluting vehicles off our roads.

Illegal Stopping and Parking
Steps will be needed to monitor ‘School Streets’ and enforce any contraventions as cars may stop and park illegally in nearby streets.

Traffic flow and congestion
With streets being closed for portions of the day, how will traffic be re-directed? How will councils ensure the smooth flow of traffic to reduce the incidence of idling due to congested roads?

How can ‘School Streets’ be enforced?

1 – Total ban on all vehicles during drop off/pick up times using static cameras to capture vehicle and VRM – but can this be used outside London? Currently there are legal restrictions on what councils are permitted to do outside London and Wales for enforcing parking and moving traffic contraventions.

2 – Create school exclusion zones around schools for enforcing only those vehicles that are seen dropping off or picking up children during certain times of the day. For example, Havering is using PSPOs (Public Space Prosecution Orders) to enforce these zones. This requires a number of Videalert’s unique unattended Pan tilt Zoom cameras to be deployed on the streets around the schools to capture this specific behaviour.

3 – Create a low emission zone around schools with cameras used to only capture those high pollutant vehicles – this could be combined with the use of Videalert unattended school safety cameras to enforce the school keep clears.

4 – Use of electric or low emission CCTV vehicles to patrol streets identifying vehicles from VRM using a DVLA look-up to determine emission class, permit holder etc. This could be used to automatically enforce restricted parking zones such as school keep clears. Roof-mounted cameras automatically capture the VRM of any vehicle parked in the restricted zone. Once the CCTV vehicle returns to base, evidence packs are reviewed and validated before PCNs are issued to the registered vehicle owner.

Councils also need to consider what legal instrument is available to enforce these measures using CCTV, as currently there are legal restrictions on what Councils are permitted to do outside London and Wales for enforcing parking and moving traffic contraventions.

The Government must adopt a more holistic approach when tackling the issues and causes of air pollution, traffic congestion and road safety, and provide councils with all the tools needed. Asking a council to deliver a Clean Air/Low Emission zone without the powers to enforce moving traffic contraventions and improve traffic flow, is irrational, and illustrates the siloed decision-making being made in government.

Whilst we believe ‘School Streets’ will result in a reduction in air pollution in and around schools, we believe the combination of low emission/clean air zones and School keep clear enforcement is currently the most effective way to  reduce air pollution,  improve traffic flow, and road safety outside our schools.

If you would like to find out more about our traffic enforcement solutions, please contact info@videalert.com for more information.


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