I wrote a tweet-thread about parents being fined for driving their kids to school in response to this article in the Guardian. I have been asked to turn it into a blog post. The internet is nothing if not immediate, so here it is.
I have written before on the impact of unintended consequences, and the problem of looking at problem solving too narrowly. This is a brilliant example of this.
We have heard much of the dangerous levels of air pollution around school and the impact this has on children’s health, including on growth and asthma. When Andy Burnham campaigned to become the Mayor for Greater Manchester he took part in such activities as measuring air quality outside a school and found it to be 7x the acceptable levels.
It is inevitable, and right, that councils will start to address the issue. It is perhaps a debate for another to ask what on earth took them so long. The trouble is when an issue is looked at in isolation. It is too simplistic to say that pollution is caused by parents and carers driving their kids to school and therefore they will stop if we fine them and lo, the air will become clean and lovely. And yet, that is exactly where we are.
There are many reasons why parents and carers will drive to school, none of which will be addressed by a fine.
Many parents work. Employers are not generally OK about their staff bimbling into work at 10am, and so given the time school starts and the average commuter time, it makes sense that parents drive their children to school en route to work. If this is no longer possible, will companies be forced to accommodate parental lateness, or will parents have to work fewer hours and take a salary cut? Many are already juggling a slightly later start time with childminders and after school clubs.
Disability. And by this I mean not only those disabilities for which you receive a blue badge. I mean chronic pain conditions, chronic fatigue conditions, fluctuating conditions that mean you don’t qualify for a blue badge but some days it is simply impossible to walk your children to school. So have the councils addressed this issue and talked of giving parents with disabilities or chronic conditions exemptions? Will there be school driving exemptions instead of or as well as blue badges? How is this going to be managed? So far there is no indication that this has been thought of. With the impact of so many other policies biting disability benefits and disability rights so hard, this could be needlessly adding to their stress.
There are other schemes, bollards on school streets that ensure that parents have to drive elsewhere at the start and end of school. It would be essential to carry out an impact assessment to check that the problem is not simply going to be moved along one street, and by problem I mean road safety problems as well as air pollution issues.
It is fascinatingly easy to judge parents for driving their children to school and to judge them for it. In the article there is a flippant comment from Friends of the Earth which suggests parents should simply use scooters! Or bikes! Easy!
Not so easy. The pavements on our walk to school are horrible. My children call them the ‘lumpy bumpy wonky donkey’ sections of the walk and I am needed to carry the scooters over these sections. There are cars parked across large parts of the pavement, which means I have to walk my children round them onto the roads. There are so many holes and bits sticking up that it is an almost weekly occurrence that the scooter wheel gets stuck and the child goes sprawling along the floor.
The pavements are not wide enough to accommodate many children cycling along it, because there is virtually nowhere for the pedestrians to go to get out of the way. In addition the child needs to be extremely confident on the bike to not get tipped into the side of a parked car by the wonky pavements. So is the council going to tarmac all the pavements to make them easier to ride? Because there isn’t a road around a school in a city in England that could be safely navigated by 4 – 11 year olds cycling along them at school rush hour.
And none of this has addressed those people who don’t get the school closest to their home.
It is easy to say that we should simply walk more and drive less. Until the bigger picture is addressed, nothing is being done to actually make this practical. It is a rare parent who simply drives because they can’t be bothered to walk for 10 minutes. The reasons and the solutions are deeper than that.