Idling Engines Are the Devil’s Workshop

3/9/2009 5:51:27 PM

Tags: Environment, emissions, anti-idling ordinances, environmental laws, public health

Anti-idling brochure

In a move certain to irritate uncompromising libertarians, oil executives, and muscle-car enthusiasts, New York City has made it illegal to let your vehicle engine idle for more than a minute in a school zone. With the new ordinance, the city joins several other cities and states in going after idling engines as a pollution source and health hazard.

Minneapolis, the home of Utne Reader’s editorial offices, is among the enlightened cities with recently passed or amended anti-idling ordinances on the books. The city even has a printable mock ticket/informational brochure on its website that vigilant citizens can use to remind violators of the law.

How bad is idling, and how unnecessary is it? Let us count the ways:

It spews greenhouse gases. In Sierra magazine’s March-April issue, advice peddler Mr. Green fields a question about the global-warming impact of that American institution, the drive-through. Crunching the numbers, Mr. Green concludes that idling cars and trucks emit about 58 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, and U.S. fast-food drive-throughs cause customers to burn an extra 50 million gallons of gas annually. At Sustainablog, Robin Shreves notes that you don’t even have to give up drive-throughs to green up your act: Just shut off your engine when you’re in line at the bank or the burger joint.

It’s a health threat. As Minneapolis’ ticket/brochure points out, “Exhaust is hazardous to human health, especially children’s; studies have linked air pollution to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma and allergies.” If you have any doubts, go suck on a tailpipe. The Environmental Defense Fund notes that children, the elderly and those with asthma and other chronic health problems are especially vulnerable to the health dangers of exhaust.

Your car doesn’t need it. If you think you need to warm up your car before driving to avoid mechanical problems, think again. Slate’s own advice columnist, the Green Lantern, tackled several engine-idling myths last May and concluded that for modern fuel-injected engines, there’s simply no good mechanical reason to warm up a car for more than 30 seconds. (For those who see Car Talk’s Click and Clack as the final word on auto advice, they concur.) As a Minnesotan, I’ll add just one caveat to the discussion: When it’s really cold—and I’m talking near or below zero—make sure your defroster is warm enough to clear the windshield before traveling at highway speed, or the glass might cloud up.

You don’t need it. Now that you know your mechanical explanation doesn’t cut it, you might have to address a touchier subject: your personal comfort. In cold weather, I can attest that many Minnesotans like to get their automobile microclimate nice ’n’ toasty before climbing inside, so as not to shock their gentle derrieres. I have several neighbors who dash out to their cars 10, 20, even 30 (!) minutes before actually departing for work to warm up their vehicles. (One guy even turns his headlights on for extra measure.) I’m a daily, year-round bike commuter who avoids using my personal virtue as a cudgel, but I’ve got to tell you, people: Toughen up or find a less wasteful way to warm your bum, whether it’s long johns or a thermal cushion. That’s me out there on the street, huffing your unoccupied car’s exhaust cloud as I ride past. Know how I warm up my vehicle? I get on and start pedaling. Neighbors, your tickets are on their way!

Sources: City of MinneapolisSierraSustainablogEnvironmental Defense FundSlateCar Talk 

Related Content

The Joy of Travel

We hit the road to find happiness, Alain de Botton says, but true bliss often happens in the hustle ...

The Leaf Blower Wars

As autumn sweeps across the land, so does the grating whine of leaf blowers—and in some cities, peac...

Homeless Advocates Win Battle Over Public Meals

Last month, the advocacy groups Food Not Bombs and Art and Compassion successfully challenged a West...

Song Premiere: The Caribbean - Electric Bass

The Caribbean premieres new track, "Electric Bass."

Content Tools

Post a comment below.


Train Wreck
1/8/2011 10:46:35 AM
I don't like idling, I like the revving engine sound best. Idling is for people who don't like fast cars and trucks. I always wander about how the General Lee was ran in the snow? How they keep the snow and ice out without windows? What are people so worried about. Some pollution is good for you. You may say that I'm crazy but it does get your immune system working more. Then you can fight the chicken pox better. I would take the 69 Charger over the new piece of junk anyday of the week. All the do nothing senors is to produce jobs. The real General had none. I still belivie that John F. Kennedy was really shot over a project for cars and trucks to run on water. It would have created money problems for oil and gas investors. So the next time you hear a roaring engine, it may be me. I'm glad I have common sense.

3/17/2009 1:57:16 PM
It is about time. Every state should have idling laws and also enforce them! I have been turning my car off at RR crossings for 30 years. In the morning I start my vehicle, check my mirrors, put it in gear and go.I always brush off snow before starting my vehicle. There should be a Greenhouse Gas Tax and a Air Pollution Tax and a Wasted Fuel Tax of at least 10% for each of these taxes on EVERY transaction at every drive through in the USA.

3/13/2009 1:48:11 AM
Idling your car has been illegal for ages here in Germany, we even cut our engines at railway crosses. Signs are posted to do so. As an American, living in Europe for many years, I m always distressed to see cars idling when I visit the US, sometimes in front of stores, even without drivers in them.

3/11/2009 4:34:58 AM
Hello,We ran across your website and really liked it. Thank you for the good information. We'll come back often. Thanks Again, BsaB Candles

Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!