Opinion: The case against idling

Gore Hall Jacob Baumgart /THE REVIEW
An idling vehicle emits 20 times more pollution than one traveling at 30 miles per hour, worsening asthma, bronchitis and existing allergies, and fine soot particles from diesel exhaust are likely carcinogenic, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

BY

“Did you know idling is against Newark ordinance, and 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting?” I asked the driver of a parked SUV chugging its engine as I pointed out the “No Idling” sign by Smith Hall.

The driver, who was waiting for a passenger, kindly expressed his apologies and turned off the engine, but take a walk on Academy Street, Main Street or most other streets around Newark and you will likely see a car or two idling, or running the car’s engine while the car is stopped. Many drivers simply forget to turn the engine off while the car is parked, despite many reasons against idling.

Most would care about this first reason against idling: obeying the law and saving money. Under Chapter 20, Article XXIX of Newark ordinance, idling a motor vehicle could land you a $100 fine. Under the Locomotive Idling Chapter of Delaware law, a first offense between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7a.m. comes with a minimum $5,000 fine.

To note briefly, there are limited exceptions under the idling ordinance. For those who prefer waiting in a warm car, an exception applies for temperatures below freezing. Exceptions granting a maximum 15 minutes of idling also apply for those with a verifiable medical condition when the temperature is above 80 degrees, and for children and seniors when the temperature is above 90 degrees.

Drivers can also save money through reduced fuel use. A study by the Argonne National Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy found that “idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and emits more carbon dioxide than engine restarting” and that “the vehicle warms up faster when driving than it does when idling.” Hence, in terms of comfort and saving time on a cold day, simply driving the vehicle will warm up the interior more quickly than by idling.

In addition, continuously running the engine furthers the wear and tear of the engine, potentially increasing maintenance costs and decreasing vehicle lifetime. For buses, this is especially damaging as according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), idling causes twice the wear and tear on internal parts as driving at regular speeds.

Perhaps more importantly, especially with the relatively poor air quality in Newark, as The Review reported last month, are the effects of idling on the environment. An idling vehicle emits 20 times more pollution than one traveling at 30 miles per hour, worsening asthma, bronchitis and existing allergies, and fine soot particles from diesel exhaust are likely carcinogenic, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Not to mention, from the most recent available estimates, emissions from the transportation sector was the most significant source of greenhouse gases in 2017 in the U.S. at 29% of emissions, according to the EPA, and also in Delaware at 31%. In a world of climate change, simply turning the engine off while the car is stopped is a personal step we all can take.

So what can you do besides idling? If you are waiting a while for someone and the temperature is cold but not freezing, consider going inside a nearby building. Getting food at a fast food place and the drive-through line is long? Skip idling and try the store.

Of course, if you drive a hybrid or a car with start-stop technology, idling is less of a worry. And, obviously, if you drive an electric vehicle, there are no tailpipe emissions at all. However, not driving, but taking the bus, riding a bike or walking, is usually even better for the environment and your wallet.

Yet for those concerned by the environment, kindly give these reasons to an idling driver and ask them to turn off their idling engine, because pollution goes into the environment whether that car is yours or your friend’s. If it seems too much of a burden, send a quick tip of the location of the idling vehicle to University of Delaware Police Department (UDPD) via the LiveSafe app (don’t worry, the first offense under the Newark idling ordinance is only a warning).

What can Newark do about idling? Unfortunately, enforcement of the idling ordinance is lax. In my Freedom of Information Act request to Newark, for 2018 or the most recent record year, Alderman’s Court, which decides all violations of Newark ordinances, had not received any payable tickets for idling. Additionally, the Newark parking department had not written any warnings or fines.

New York City has a Citizens Air Complaint Program, where citizens can send videos of idling trucks and buses for a percentage of the fine. One lawyer received $4,912.80 from 47 summonses, according to the New York Post. Newark can consider a similar program.

And to the UDPD, Newark police, and the Newark parking department, please increase your enforcement efforts.

Anthony Chan is a sophomore at the university and serves as treasurer of Students for the Environment on campus. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s staff. He may be reached at achan@udel.edu.

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