Anti-idling laws

Climate change is a big problem and discouraging idling alone is not going to solve it.  But enacting an anti-idling law is (or at least, should be) a no-brainer.  Who in their right mind would advocate that it should be perfectly okay to idle your engine for 5 minutes while you run into the store or wait to pick up your kid?  It’s a blatant disregard for conservation and the air quality of the pedestrians and cyclists who have to breathe in the results of your idling.  (Or the birds around the coal plant who breathe the fumes that are produced in generating the power for your “clean” electric vehicle.)

What’s wrong with idling?

  • Idling the engine of the average car for ten minutes uses 0.25 L of gas.  What does that mean?  Imagine a person who idles their car for 5 minutes every time they pick their kid up from school and then idles their car for 5 minutes while they wait in line at the drive through. That’s (10 minutes) x (5 days/week) x (4 weeks/month) x (9 school months) x (0.25 L/10 minutes) = 45 L [1].  Put another way, that’s roughly 450 kWh of energy or more than enough energy for washing your clothes for a year [2].
  • Contrary to popular belief, it is not more energy efficient to leave your car running for 5 minutes than turning off your car and turning it back on 5 minutes later.  The energy efficiency cut off occurs at 10 seconds [1].
  • And of course there is the issue of air quality.
  • And that when you stop your car, do you know how long you will idle your engine for?

Why should Corvallis pass an anti-idling by-law?

  • The City of Corvallis has a 2020 Vision Statement that envisions Corvallis being: “an environmentally-aware community” and “a highly liveable city which employs local benchmarks to measure its progress in areas such as […] environmental quality” [3].
  • Corvallis could lead Oregon as being the first municipality with a personal vehicle anti-idling by-law.  (Oregon and 21 other states have anti-idling regulations for commercial vehicles [4].)
  • DC, Connecticut and New Jersey have anti-idling laws for personal vehicles [5-7].  Yes, I said New Jersey.

What would the by-law look like?

  • I would recommend at most a 1 minute cap unless there are regulations disallowing such a short time [8].  Existing by-laws in other locations could also provide a guide [5-7].

Why is this a car-free, bicycling or pedestrian issue?

  • The air-quality aspect isn’t just a public-health issue, just like active transportation isn’t just an environmental issue (it’s also a public-health issue). Locking up my bicycle next to an idling vehicle?  Navigating a parking lot with a queue of vehicles at a drive-thru? Walking to a school with a line of idling, waiting parents?  All disincentives to bicycling.
  • Making driving less convenient (starting and stopping your car, not pre-heating your car in the barely-cold winter, getting people out of their moving living rooms at coffee stops and fast-food joints) makes biking and walking more appealing.  Making biking and walking more appealing makes for more cyclists and pedestrians.  More cyclists and pedestrians makes for safer biking and walking.  Which makes biking and walking more appealing.  And … loop.

[1] Idling FAQs. Natural Resources Council of Canada.
[2] Sustainable energy without the hot air. David MacKay.
[3] 2020 Vision Statement. City of Corvallis.
[4] Idling Regulations Compendium. American Transportation Research Institute.
[5] District of Columbia Anti-Idling Law
[6] New Jersey Anti-Idling Law
[7] Connecticut Anti-Idling Law
[8] A model idling control by-law. Natural Resources Council of Canada

2 thoughts on “Anti-idling laws

  1. Annee

    Just discovered your website and really appreciate this article and graphic. One of the most frustrating idling situations I’ve noticed lately is that of drivers waiting for a desirable parking space to open as someone loads their car full of groceries, kids, etc. While a car idles in wait, I’m likely to have parked my bike and be in the store already! When we were preparing to get rid of our car a few years ago, I worried about feeling trapped by fewer transportation options. Now from my view outside the windshield I see people trapped in their cars on the packed highway, stuck in street traffic, and circling around full parking lots. Then I realize I was trapped in a car, but now I am free!

Comments are closed.