A short news story on the BBC website caught my eye a few weeks ago. It was about a test involving three families from Sheffield. The aim was to see who inhaled the most pollution on the journey to school – those who walk, bike or travel by car. The result was counterintuitive. 'People believe that a car gives you protection from the environment outside. Quite the opposite is true,' commented Professor Sir David King, the former Government Chief Scientific Adviser.
He went on to describe cars as a 'toxic box' due to the fact that exhaust-polluted air comes in from outside and gets trapped in the vehicle. It's a sobering thought for any of us who assume that the insulated environment of a car would be best. Travelling by bike was better than walking, which I surmise is due to the reduced time exposed to pollution. Of course, for many of us, there doesn't seem much choice when it comes to how we journey to school. Geography, the frequency of public transport, safety and just basic logistics limit the choices – let alone the pressures of time in the morning. And this isn't helped by the extraordinary ability of children to make the simple process of putting on a coat and shoes into an excruciating piece of performance art.
But there is another issue at stake here which goes beyond the personal health effects: what is the environmental impact of using the car as opposed to public transport, walking or getting on a bike? Children are more aware of environmental issues than parents and old habits don't change easily. Yet whatever the circumstances, we can all do more to reduce our impact. Walking might not be a practical option for many but could the car be limited to just part of the journey? Or to days when the weather is particularly bad? It's complicated and would add enormously to the stresses and strains of the morning routine but, as parents, do we not have a duty to see if we can reduce our family footprint?