Please walk your kid to school instead of driving

A shocking fact sheet shows the permanent damage that traffic pollution can do to our children's health.

Every morning, millions of well-meaning parents drive their kids to school. They think they’re doing the kids a favor – giving them more time to sleep in, making the morning go smoothly, delivering them on time, sheltering them from the weather – but, in fact, something insidious is happening.

Children are being poisoned by traffic fumes, many of which are generated by fossil-fuelled vehicles used for the daily school run.

Some kids do need to be driven to school, such as those who fall outside the school board’s recommended walkable distance, those with special needs, or those who are coming from early-morning appointments. Those drop-offs are exceptions to the rule. What I’m talking about here are the many parents who drive every single day because they cannot be bothered to (a) walk their kids or (b) allow their kids to walk alone.

This comes at a high cost that these wonderful, loving parents do not realize. They are making our kids, quite literally, car sick. Here is what’s happening to their health, courtesy of renowned British environmental writer George Monbiot:

car sick© George Monbiot

Monbiot was inspired to put together this fact sheet for a local school that was experiencing high levels of air pollution from parents driving their kids, sometimes as little as 100 meters (330 feet) up the road! A big part of the problem, he says, is that parents are unaware of the connection between pollution and health issues.

“We don’t mean to do this to our children. But once we know how much we are hurting them, we can stop it, by changing the way we travel. Walking and cycling are ideal.”

This argument is not about protecting the environment. It’s not even talking about injuries and death from traffic accidents. This is about protecting our children’s health, which we do in so many other ways throughout the day, and yet ignore as soon as it comes to the school run.

The wonderful thing about embracing a safer, healthier mode of transportation is that there’s no downside, aside from the extra time it takes, but that has potential to be viewed as a benefit. It’s an opportunity for exercise, for fresh air, for meditation, for conversation with your kid, for visiting with friends, for getting some vitamin D on your skin, for walking a pet. Kids who walk to school are calmer, more focused, happier, and healthier.

I urge you to give it a try. Sign up for a walking challenge, if that helps. Pledge to walk for five days straight or for one month. Get a group of friends to join. Start a walking school bus, alternating the role with other parents. Or let your kids go alone. If they’re in grade two or higher, they might be craving that independence and be more capable than you think. Ride bikes, skateboards, scooters. Walk, run, skip!

Whatever you do, read those facts again and let them sink in. If you care about your child’s health, then you should really skip the car.

Tags: Air Pollution | Air Quality | Car-Free | Driving | Health | Kids | Pollution | Walking

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