Do This, Not That: Bypass the carpool lane

This is the third in an occasional series on seemingly small acts of physical activity that can, over time, have a surprising impact on your life. So far, GGNC  has looked at taking the stairs vs. the elevator and watching TV on an exo ball rather than hunkered down in a La-Z-Boy. Today: Avoiding the carpool lane.

The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center’s National Center for Safe Routes to School tracks a lot of information: How many kindergarteners take the bus vs. 5th graders, how many kids who live a quarter to a half mile from school get there by walking, whether the presence of crossing guards makes parents more apt to let their kids walk to school. One stat it doesn’t follow, though, is how many years are shaved from the lives of parents who use the car pool lane at the typical school.

Car pool drop-offs & pick-ups are, for whatever reason, magnets for some of the most annoying behavior outside of reality TV. Parents who reach the designated drop point and decide it’s a good time to discuss summer camp options with their kid. Parents who drop their kid and remember they have business inside the school — and park in the car pool lane. Parents who become engrossed in their eyeliner and don’t realize — despite a cacophony of honking — that the car in front of them has deposited its load and been gone a good five minutes. Parents who do all of this while on their cell phone. It’s absolutely maddening.

It’s also something you needn’t put up with because at most schools you have a healthy alternative.

Healthy alternative: Park three blocks (or two, or four, or whatever works) from school and walk your child to school. According to the aforementioned National Center for Safe Routes to School, only 11 percent of kids in the U.S. walk to school (a slightly higher percentage, 15, walk home). The main reason given by parents for not letting their kids walk or ride their bike to school is that they live too far away: 34 percent of parents reported that they live more than 2 miles from their child’s school. Granted, walking two miles with your third grader not only would tucker him out by the time you arrive, but it would probably take you an hour to make the trip. So even if you can’t walk the whole way, you can at least walk part of it.

Physical benefits: With two-thirds of North Carolina’s adults overweight or obese and nearly 20 percent of our kids obese, a little walk in the morning couldn’t hurt. Let’s say you park four blocks from school and walk. Based on the length of a typical city block, you’d be walking about a quarter mile, a distance that you should be able to cover, at a moderate pace, in 10 minutes. Current thinking holds that adults need at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, kids 60, and that you can derive aerobic benefits in spurts as short as 10 minutes. As an adult, dropping off and picking up your kid four blocks from school would cover two-thirds of your daily minimum requirement.

Morning benefits: There are numerous benefits to exercising early in the day. Exercise has been shown to improve mental acuity, so why wait until day’s end to reap this benefit? Exercise also can accelerate your metabolism; again, another benefit you should enjoy throughout the day. From a practical standpoint, it’s often easier to get a workout out of the way first thing before the demands of the day close in. Even just 10 minutes (since you’ll have to walk back to the car, make that 20 minutes) can jump start you for the day.

It’s social: According to, “Nearly nine out of 10 parents who walk their children to school see it as an ideal way to meet new people.”

It’s green: Driving that extra four blocks probably won’t have a major effect on global warming, but think about what happens when you reach school. If you arrive during peak drop off, you’ll probably spend up to five minutes idling/crawling/idling in the car pool lane. You and 50 other cars. Creating a cloud of exhaust. Hanging over your kid’s school.

Make it safe: When picking a route, look for a side street around your school where you can park and not obstruct traffic. Try to avoid having to cross a major street, especially those used by the car poolers. If you can work in some scenery, so much the better. Stick to sidewalks, don’t cut across lawns, keep an eye out for roaming dogs.

Best of all: You won’t be driven nuts by other parents who are putting on makeup, reading the paper, downloading apps, working the crossword and conducting a family meeting that should have taken place last night over the dinner table while they’re dropping off their kids in front of you in the car pool lane.

Sources:, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center’s National Center for Safe Routes to School, Eat Smart, Move More NC.

5 thoughts on “Do This, Not That: Bypass the carpool lane”

  1. This brought back memories of an time when my son was in 5th and 6th grade. An arrangement was made with a mutual classmate that the boys would walk,about a mile, to his house and play a bit. Pickup on my part was later thus allowing the outdoor and social time for them. Not only did I avoid the “Line” but I often found them playing in the nearby park and joined it!

    1. When Hana was in grade school we used to park two blocks away and walk. A short walk, but it was a very nice little bit of time we had together before the day got underway. And I was able to avoid the carpool traffic madness altogether.

      1. You have made the point I was going to add: It gives a little parent-child time that you can’t get in the car—because you’re watching the road (right?) and your child is iPoding or something. That little walk is a time to be together in a simple, daily ritual that will not only help you connect in the moment, but also create memories for the future.

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