To help curb the health and environmental hazards of vehicle idling, more than two-dozen states and many municipalities have a variety of anti-idling regulations in place. Some set idling limits for all types of vehicles and others target a narrow set of vehicles, like school buses or city vehicles.
Laws and regulations are a good start to reducing emissions from unnecessary vehicle idling, but they aren’t very effective if they aren’t enforced or paired with public education. New York City, for example, tightened up its anti-idling laws in 2009 but then was criticized for loosely enforcing them. In a city that was issuing some 10 million parking tickets every year, it was only issuing a few thousand idling tickets despite the fact that the rules are so frequently violated.
But there are signs that cities are starting to do more to reduce unnecessary idling, which wastes 3.8 million gallons of fuel per day and contributes to climate-change causing emissions and air pollution.
The Los Angeles City Council has introduced legislation to draft an ordinance to restrict parked vehicles from idling for more than one minute. The motion is partly in reaction to Los Angeles County’s failing grades in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report, which is especially hard on the more than 1.3 million children and adults who suffer from asthma in the LA metro area.
New York City, another metro area with an “F” for high ozone days and more than 2 million asthma sufferers, added more enforcement power to its idling law by empowering citizens to report idling trucks and buses via a complaint form. If the idler is found guilty, the person who reported it receives 25% of the fine, which ranges from $350 to $2,000. Washington D.C. is piloting a program that will allow citizens to report idling commercial trucks and buses via the city’s 311 mobile app. Philadelphia’s Idle Free Philly campaign also allows citizens to report violators on a mobile app and website.
The idling laws and resulting fines in place around the country vary widely, which makes things confusing for drivers. Many of the idling regulations target heavy-duty commercial vehicles and don’t include passenger vehicles. A handful of states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont — stipulate fines for passenger vehicle idling, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Energy (see the full “Idlebase” list here). A few other states, like Texas, outlaw idling only when the vehicle is unattended, but the intention is to prevent theft rather than curb emissions.
Here are some more examples of fines for vehicle idling around the country:
- Las Vegas: $10,000 maximum fine for idling a diesel truck or bus more than 15 consecutive minutes
- Hawaii: 3 minutes of idling will cost you $25 to $2,500.
- Denver: 5 minutes of idling in an hour will bring a fine of $150 to $999.
- District of Columbia: 3 minutes of idling carries a $1,000 fine.
The DOE points out in the Idlebase document that idling laws are surprisingly variable: “While one city might limit the idling of ‘vehicles,’ another city might regulate the idling of ‘diesel-fueled commercial vehicles weighing more than 26,000 lb (gross vehicle weight),’ and another city might limit the idling of ‘large trucks on State Street.’ Evidence of the complicated landscape of idling restrictions, the most variable category is ‘Exemptions.’ Often—even usually—the law’s exemptions are longer than the law itself.”
Engage with Local Government
If you would like to see anti-idling regulations enacted or strengthened in your area, begin by researching anti-idling laws, ordinances, and policies in your town, city, and/or state. Find a list here. If these are in place, are they being enforced? Are there opportunities that you see for improvement? Develop a set of recommendations and identify the appropriate person/s to meet with in your community. Identify potential allies such as like-minded local environmental or health organizations who can help you. For inspiration, read how a student in Connecticut convinced his town adopt a no-idling resolution.
Tell Your Legislators that Idling Is an Important Issue
While the current idling laws that are in place are a great start, all states should have laws against this harmful practice. A national law would likely be best, as inconsistency in rules makes compliance difficult for drivers, particularly long-distance drivers like truckers. Also, in recent years several car manufacturers have started offering automatic start-stop anti-idling technology in their vehicles. Like higher MPG legislation, this technology could be mandated in new vehicles, which would significantly cut down on unnecessary idling times.
To learn more about the issues around idling, visit iturnitoff.com, and stay tuned for a new toolkit we’re developing to help you start an anti-idling campaign in your community.