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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Clean air crusader: Holladay mom encourages parents to not idle the car during school pick-ups

Aug 29, 2018 10:43AM ● By Jana Klopsch

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

When the hot summer days fade into pleasant fall afternoons, the Wasatch Front enjoys relatively good air quality. But when January rolls around and the inversion hits, the air isn’t just ugly, it’s unhealthy. Holladay mom Crystal Bruner Harris says not idling your car will help, and she’s organizing events at local elementary schools to get the word out. 

Bruner Harris lives in the boundaries for Oakwood Elementary School. Though her kids aren’t in school yet, she felt like she could make a difference in her community, so she started idle-free pick-up events. 

“I run an Instagram called ‘We are greener together.’ One week the focus was idle-free. Doing my research for that, I went to the Facebook page Utah Moms for Clean Air. There were a lot of parents complaining about idling at schools, but no program to combat it,” said Bruner Harris. 

She got in touch with the faculty at Oakwood and the Holladay Police Department, who were happy to step in. They verified that there is a city ordinance regarding idling. 

The city ordinance, passed in February 2013, is enforceable on “all public property,” i.e., schools. “The easiest way to remember it is ‘the two-minute limit.’ Drivers should not idle their vehicles for more than two minutes,” said Bruner Harris. Newer cars have start/stop technology which automatically limits idling. Electric and hybrid cars are a step in the right direction. But for traditional engines, the driver needs to make the choice to cut the engine. 

Weather-based special circumstances for the idling ordinance state that “if the temperature is below 32° F or above 90° F, drivers can idle as needed” to run the heater or air conditioner, “for the health and safety” of the occupants of the car. There is also a provision for “idling for the minimum amount of time required” to defrost windows. 

Bruner Harris cites a Weber State University study which showed that car idling negatively impacts air. “If you’re concerned about being in a car that’s cold, so you turn the heater on and idle in a parking lot, you’re actually breathing in a lot of that bad air. And if you have a small child in there, he or she is breathing it, too. An alternative is to bring a blanket or wear your coat.” 

In Spring 2018 Oakwood had their first idle-free pick-up event. As school let out, Bruner Harris and Holladay officers perused the parking lot, and gently asked any parent who was idling to turn off their engine while they waited for their children. They handed out idle-free car decals. “There were a few negative responses, but overall, it was very positive,” said Bruner Harris. Howard R. Driggs and Spring Lane Elementary Schools ran similar events. 

Granite District offers idle-free signage to schools at no charge; all administrators need to do is ask. For real-time information on air quality, Bruner Harris says the website is a trustworthy and eye-opening resource. And some groups offer air sensors at free or reduced rates for those willing to participate in a study. 

“I’ve got big hopes for idle-free awareness in Holladay. I have a group of volunteers, and my goal is to do at least one idle-free pick-up event at each elementary school this year. Then maybe two a year or even a week-long event,” Bruner Harris said.

“If we all make small changes together, we can make a big difference. By the time it’s a red air day, it’s already too late. We need to take action when the air quality is better so we can keep it in a good place for a longer amount of time,” Bruner Harris said. “As the school year starts, for the health of your kids and everyone in the valley, get in the habit of shutting off the engine during pick-up. We can always benefit from cleaner air.”