By Zoe Rader
It is no secret that at WHS, parking spots are limited for students. Other than the designated row in the back parking lot, students must embark on a ruthless battle of street parking which is strictly first come, first served. Leaving early, however, has its own consequences. The sooner students leave their houses, the more time they spend sitting in their cars waiting for school to start.
Often with their cars still running.
Idling in a car is a whole new level of environmental catastrophe, and student drivers might have a bigger impact on this issue than they think.
“The automotive world has taken over as the biggest air pollution case, more than smokestacks, factories or ships at sea,” said George Pakenham, an environmental specialist and WHS alum who created a short film about this topic and showed it in 2014 at the high school. “You should be conscious of that...you and everyone on the road are contributing to the highest form of air pollution in America.”
In a Hi’s Eye survey of 150 juniors and seniors in gym classes, roughly 49 percent said they are driving to school five days a week. In addition, 64 percent claimed they spend about 5 minutes or less with their car on in the morning, while 13 percent spend 7-10 minutes idling and 8 percent spend 12-15 minutes with their cars running. Roughly 3 percent spend 18-20 minutes idling and 2 percent spend more than 20 minutes with their cars on.
“I think students could do a better job,” said Driver’s Education Teacher Ms. Lindsey Ginex. “I watch students pull up, say, 6:50-7:00 in the morning and then sit in their car for a half hour with their car running.”
Junior Connor Abrams said he leaves his car on for about 20 minutes to keep himself warm in the winter months. “It’s absolutely horrible for the environment and my gas bill, but I need to stay warm even if that means supporting global warming,” Abrams said.
Senior Shannon Devitt said she leaves her car running for about five minutes because she knows it hurts the environment. “I recognize that my car is anything but eco-friendly by getting about nine miles to a gallon,” she said.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has an idling law that limits idling to only three consecutive minutes if the vehicle is not in motion. An exception to this law is the permission of idling for up to 15 minutes if it is below 25 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Officer Elizabeth Savnik, the Westfield school resource officer, found that the anti-idling law has a minimum penalty of $250 for any violations.
Acting Principal Derrick Nelson said he was in favor of enforcing the law and reminding students of its existence. “A sign can’t hurt anything,” Nelson said.
Pakenham said the environmental costs from idling are truly significant. “It’s a waste for them to drive and sit in the parking lot with their engines on,” he said. “It wastes about half a gallon of gas and churns out CO2 into the air. The plants don’t mind it and the trees don’t mind it, but for humans it doesn’t do any good.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cars are, not surprisingly, huge contributors to pollution, producing large amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides and other contaminants. Poor air quality increases and aggravates respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis and life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
Eighty percent of the WHS juniors and seniors surveyed believe idling creates an environmental problem. Thirty-five percent said they would consider walking to school, while 18 percent would consider biking.
Rather than negligence, some solutions might be too idealistic. For example, Nelson said there is essentially no place for students to go in the mornings since there are no teachers on duty. “The school is not technically open really until 7:30,” he said. “I can’t have students there unsupervised just because they get there early. We can’t make it so that there is a place for them to go before teachers even get here.”
Classrooms open when a teacher arrives and other WHS resource centers are not open before 7:30. Therefore, the WHS hallways are the most promising place for students to stay before first period, aside from their cars.
So why not just encourage students to simply turn their cars off once parked?
“Obviously if it’s freezing, yeah, you want to turn your car on and get some heat,” Mcloughlin said.
Carpooling is another solution, yet it is restrictive. According to New Jersey driving laws, drivers who are 17 years old are given a probationary license that only permits having one other passenger in the car while driving. At the same time, only 21 percent of the juniors and seniors surveyed said they drive one other person to school while 57 percent said they drove no one.
Even with these driving and school-space limitations, there are still things student drivers can do to help decrease their negative impact on the environment. “Be aware that idling does add up in terms of the CO2 emissions,” Mcloughlin said. “Be aware that you are having an impact on people that don’t even live near you. We as individuals often don’t think that our actions make that much of a difference, but they really do.”