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Kids, cars, and Whitson

Editorial for Dec. 11, 2003

Kids, cars, and Whitson

Two events near Whitson Elementary School -- one a shocking calamity, the other an ongoing issue -- highlight the continuing need for the community to watch out for its children.

On Dec. 3, two carloads of Columbia High School students were involved in what essentially could be classified as a road rage incident, based on the police report. The two juvenile drivers were trying to upstage each other. They cut each other off, then one driver tried to pass where he shouldn't have been passing and the other driver tried to prevent him from passing. The result was extremely high rates of speed in a residential neighborhood and in a school zone -- reckless behavior that endangered lives, including the lives of children. The Washington State Patrol estimated speeds of approximately 55 mph -- in a 25 mph zone. In the effort to pass, one of the cars smashed into a parked car, a vehicle ended up partly on the sidewalk, and three young people ended up in the hospital.

This inexcusable misadventure took place less than two blocks from Whitson. Depending on the time of day, there are many youngsters crossing the street in the area, or walking home along the sidewalks, and there are often residents out and about.

Penny Morris of the White Salmon City Council put the incident in stark perspective: "Children were just getting out of school, and the sidewalks were full of children," said Morris. "We're lucky we didn't lose a child. Very lucky."

It's difficult and abhorrent to imagine someone barreling along at 55 mph so close to an elementary school. This incident never should have happened, and it's up to parents, the police, the courts, and the schools to do whatever is required to try to ensure others don't make the same potentially deadly mistake in the future.

The second issue is also related to the health and welfare of our kids, but it is a problem that could be addressed much more easily.

Please, parents, do your kids -- and everyone else's kids -- a huge favor: When you drive over to pick up your sons and daughters at Whitson Elementary School and you have to wait a few minutes, TURN OFF YOUR ENGINES.

Every day when students are released from classes, there are 20-25 vehicles lining both sides of Main Street in front of the school. Usually, about half of the drivers sit there with their vehicles idling for as long as it takes for their kids to come out. That can be as long as five or 10 minutes, and all the while, gray clouds of exhaust and the odor of burning fuel reveal which drivers don't bother to reach for the ignition switch.

Sure it's a bit cold sometimes, but that's no justification for leaving the motor running. Your car will stay warm for five or 10 minutes. But even if you get a bit chilly, think of the kids, and put their needs first.

Idling cars are not healthy for lungs, and children's lungs in particular. Adults may not realize this, but the harmful effects of breathing exhaust fumes are much worse for young people, and here's why: Children breathe 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults. So when your car is idling at Whitson, remember that it is needlessly pumping out air-fouling fumes right over the sidewalk ... where the kids are gathering to meet their parents. They can't escape it. It's up to drivers to do the right thing, and for other parents to be aware that this could be harmful. It's time for the school to post a sign or send a reminder home to ask parents to turn off their cars while they wait.

According to the Washington Department of Ecology, one of every 10 kids in the state of Washington has asthma, and that rate is going up. Exposure to car exhaust is seen as one reason for the increase.

Idling a car also wastes about a gallon of gas an hour.

Please remember to just shut your engine off while you're waiting. Our children deserve no less.



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