New York City’s Efforts to Stop Idling


Vehicle idling is a serious and often ignored problem. While it is unfortunate that so many drive inefficient and highly polluting vehicles to navigate New York City, it is even worse that tons of emissionsare released into the air by drivers who could simply turn off their engines while parked and not moving.

A 2009 study by the Environmental Defense Fund estimated that idling in New York City accounts for both at least a $28 million loss in wasted gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as a substantial amount of smog forming pollutants, including 940 tons of nitrous oxides, 2,200 tons of volatile organic compounds, 24 tons of particulate matter, and 6,400 tons of carbon monoxide. In fact, the yearly idling carbon dioxide emissions in NYC alone would require at least 20,000 acres of trees, or 23 central parks, to absorb them.These pollutants contribute heavily to high rates of asthma, respiratory problems, and premature deaths from poor air quality, among other health-related issues.

New York City’s Efforts to Stop Idling

New York City, along with other cities and states across the Country, has made some effort to curb this behavior idling. Since as far back as 1972, fines for this behavior have ranged from $250.00 to $2,000.00 for idling for longer than three minutes. Today, idling for as little as one minute in a school zone merits a citation. Newer legislation allows for Traffic Enforcement Officers, the Parks Department, and the Sanitation Department to also issue fines. Taxi licenses also now require education on anti-idling practices. Unfortunately, however, anti-idling enforcement is still a fairly low priority, mainly due to costs, for the New York City Police Department.

If you’re asking yourself why this easily avoided negative impact on air quality isn’t a higher priority to the City, you’d enjoy the company of George Pakenham, the leading figure in the film Idle Threat. Through this film, Pakenham’s simple and direct question to drivers he found idling was:

“Did you know that in the City of New York you can’t have your engine idling for more than three minutes?”

Interestingly enough, this was enough to get 80% of drivers he encountered to turn off their engines. Pakenham’s routine documentation of his encounters also showed that the NYPD was missing out on $350,000 worth of uncollected fines.

Are you a part of the 80% of those willing to change your idling habits now that you are more aware?

Why do drivers idle?

Usually, idling is a result of simply not being aware of the costs of wasted gas, the polluting of the city’s air, or the illegality of idling. The most popular reasons that the average driver invokes to rationalize idling are often outdated arguments in favor of proper vehicle maintenance. Modern vehicles are no longer at risk of damaging starters with routine starts and stops of the ignition. Also, newer vehicles use less gas if drivers turn off their cars when they expect to be motionless for more than 10 seconds. Finally, some drivers believe that letting their vehicles “warm up” is an effective way to save gas, when really the best way to warm up a car is by simply driving it.

Another reason for idling is climate control, especially for truck drivers who spend ample time inside their vehicles while parked, either waiting or sleeping. These drivers may not even be aware that emissions caused by idling are invading the insides of their cabins and making their daily work environments toxic.

Ambulances and other emergency vehicles often sit idling for extensive periods of time, even during non-emergencies, but their reasons to do so shouldn’t necessarily be suspect. There are medications that need to be climate controlled, and certain equipment needs to remain charged. Moreover, the last thing an emergency vehicle’s crew wants is a dead battery when it needs to respond to a crisis. These arguments defending emergency vehicle idling are understood, but the technology also exists to correct these issues the problem. Future ambulances may be powered by electric batteries or at least hybrid technology. If an emergency vehicle is still running a conventional powered ambulance or truck, installing auxiliary power units could readily keep cabins or medications cooled, as well as electric equipment running.

A place where the government can step in here is by building more electric charging stations at truck stops and ambulance-only parking for battery units that could power much of a truck or ambulance.

Review of Solutions

Idling is still a significant problem, because drivers don’t take it seriously enough. However, governments across the Country have passed anti-idling legislation, and citizens are becoming more aware of the dangers of idling. Below are some simple solutions that help reduce the “low hanging fruit” of emissions released while idling:

ß Stricter enforcement of idling practices

ß Raising awareness to increase the cultural stigma against idling, drive-thrus, and remote starters

ß Requiring anti-idling questions and lessons in drivers’ exams

ß The use of hybrid electric vehicles that shut off their engines when idle

ß The use of auxiliary power units that power equipment without use of conventional engines

ß The installation of electric charging stations in ambulance-only parking spaces and truck stops

One Response to New York City’s Efforts to Stop Idling

  1. Joe says:

    An idling nyqh ambulance has the engine running next to a school yard almost on a daily basis (jewel park/topia parkway in queens) for etended periods of time. Do I have any recourse? To whom can I make a complaint where I can obtain a response?

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