BY ARIEL SMILOWITZ
Every day, twenty-four million American children take the bus to school. On average, these students spend about an hour and a half each day on a school bus. For many, the school bus is the most popular and effective way to transport children to and from school and is often the safest way as well. For example, in the state of Florida alone, there are about 19,205 school buses; however, although riding the bus to school is easy and convenient, a price must be paid as a result. When one thinks of a school bus, one can’t help but think about the vile fumes that are emitted, constantly polluting the air around schools and contaminating the air students breathe on a daily basis. These emissions are augmented by the unnecessary idling of bus drivers. Although school buses play a significant role in children’s lives all over the country, the diesel fumes that are emitted every day are extremely dangerous not only to the environment, but to children as well. This country must take action to reduce unnecessary school bus idling: money will be saved, pollution will decrease, and children will have cleaner air to breathe.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, unnecessary school bus idling pollutes the air, wastes fuel, and causes excessive engine wear. The school buses use diesel fuel, and diesel exhaust contains fine particulate matter, which is a complex mixture of small particles and liquid droplets. These particles are made up of a number of acids like sulfates and nitrates, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. The fact that these fine particles are so small is why they pose such a significant threat to the health of students, as it is easy for them to pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. These particles can aggravate bronchitis and asthma and can cause lung damage and premature death. Furthermore, EPA has determined that fine particulate matter is likely a human carcinogen. Because children’s respiratory systems are still developing, they are much more susceptible to air pollution.
In addition to the numerous health problems that diesel exhaust facilitates, the exhaust also contributes to smog, acid rain, and global climate change. These facts are indisputable; acid rain accelerates the decay of building materials and the particulate matter contributes to visibility degradation and harm public health. Furthermore, fine particulate matter contributes to haze, which is caused when sunlight encounters tiny pollution particles in the air, reducing one’s visual range.
Another significant problem idling creates is that it wastes money. Public schools all over the country are making budget cuts, reducing students’ access to resources like paper, textbooks, and other vital components that contribute to their education. Yet, school buses are allowed to idle for long periods of time, wasting fuel and money that could be spent on more important things. For example, there are 19,205 school buses in Florida, and diesel prices are currently about $3.50. If all 19,205 buses reduce their idling time by 10 minutes, the state of Florida will save about 288,075 gallons of fuel per year. This figure translates into annual savings of over a million dollars per year! This country is still reeling from the recent recession, so why are we still allowing buses to idle?
After reading all of the detrimental effects that bus idling creates, it is hard to imagine that nothing has been done to stop unnecessary idling. Bus drivers have absolutely no excuse for idling longer than a couple of minutes. Although many argue that idling is necessary for passenger comfort in hot or cold weather, in actuality idling does not help warm or cool a bus any faster and depending on the weather, many buses will maintain a comfortable interior temperature for a while without idling. In addition, many people also believe that it’s important to warm up the engine with a long idle period, especially in cold weather, and that it’s better for an engine to run at low speed (idling) than to run at regular speeds. In fact, running an engine at low speed (idling) causes significantly more wear on internal parts compared to driving at regular speeds, so in the end, idling causes more harm than good.
Several states have already enacted legislation aimed at eliminating bus idling around schools, including California, Vermont, Arizona, New York, and Connecticut. The best example is California: according to the California Code of Regulations Title 13, Section 2480, school bus drivers must turn off their engines upon stopping at a school or within 100 feet of a school, and must not turn the bus or vehicle engine on more than 30 seconds before beginning to depart from a school or from within 100 feet of a school. Nonetheless, this country as a whole must find a way to reduce unnecessary bus idling, whether through alternative transportation methods, new technology, or legislation. Rather than waste money, pollute the environment and harm millions of students, schools should implement bus idling reduction programs and retrofit their buses with equipment that helps reduce idling. We need to take action now, so that future generations can go to school without worrying about the quality of the air they breathe.