Colder weather may be coming on, but the Shelburne Community School (SCS) campaign to reduce emissions from idling is just heating up. Idling, the practice of leaving cars running while they are not moving, is a big problem at the school.
This is happening despite an anti-idling law that was enacted in Vermont last year. The Chittenden South Supervisory Union also has a policy to limit the idling of motor vehicles. Chosen as one of eight schools partnering with Idle-Free Vermont’s Idle-Free Schools Campaign during the 2015-16 school year, the SCS community is hoping a student-led research and education project will have a positive impact on idling rates.
The Winton team 8th grade science class and the SCS middle school Environmental Club recently spent six afternoons collecting data on SCS idling by stealthily tracking cars in the parking lot during student pick up time. They found that idling is a common practice. On some observation days, up to 20 percent of vehicles arriving for student pick-up were idling, and many for 15 minutes or more.
With an already high proportion of kids who are driven individually to school instead of taking the bus, that translates into a lot of additional wasted fuel, more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and poorer air quality around the school. Students calculated the daily rate of idling fuel use and emissions released by using data that included the amount of time spent idling and fuel consumption by vehicle type. They found more than 302 gallons of fuel is burned and 6,102 pounds of carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere during the school year just from cars sitting with their engines running.
As part of the year-long project, students will begin an education outreach project in the coming months, including erecting signs supplied by Idle-Free Vermont and driver-contact events. “Certainly reducing carbon emissions and protecting the quality of the air around the school are the biggest goals” said Wayne Michaud, president of Bristol-based, Idle-Free Vermont. “But we also aim to change overall idling habits by dispelling some myths. Mainly that leaving your car running instead of turning it off and restarting it saves fuel, and that it is better for engines to be left running. Both are untrue.”
A new set of observations will be done in the spring, when temperatures are comparable to the original data collection days, to see if the campaign has made a difference. Michaud says that prevention is much better accomplished through education rather than enforcement, even though fines are an option. Having the kids involved in the project not only provides them a valuable experience with a real-world science investigation, but also a means of making a positive difference in their community.
The schools that were involved in last year’s campaign saw an average idling reduction rate of one third. “Kids can have a bigger impact in getting their parents and community members to change habits,’ Michaud said. “They have real concerns about the future health of the environment and their involvement and concern as stakeholders is very compelling.”