This post is based on my own pet project to change behavior around idling – drivers sitting in their cars with their engines running while texting, oblivious to the effects of the pollutant spewing vehicle.
Whether you agree or not with the cause, your company or non profit may want to initiate a cause and use PR to change negative behavior. Think of nonsmoking PR campaigns, mandatory seat belts and motorcycle helmets. Social media can certainly help spread the message. Run a petition on Change.org. Start with some fresh content, submit letters to the editor, build a Facebook page for the cause.
Here is my anti-idling article that ran in this week’s Sierra Club newsletter (and on the SJ Mercury online). I’ll be tweeting it several times today and posting on Facebook. Next step? Approach my City’s environmental director to post “no idling” signs around busy parking lots with the backing of fellow volunteers, followers and fans…
Turn Off Your Engine! I’m Trying to Breathe!
I’m a Palo Alto resident with an obsession about car idling. Time and time again, I witness drivers parked in their cars texting away while their engines spew greenhouse gas and particulates.
Drivers in the US waste nearly four million gallons of gasoline and emit about 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide each day just from idling five to 10 minutes, on average. Annually that’s about 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline and 13 million tons of carbon dioxide. Why? Because many drivers think that turning off and restarting their engines uses more fuel than keeping the engine running, or that they have to warm up their cars before they drive off. In fact:
- Your car uses more fuel when the engine idles for 30 seconds than when you turn it off and restart it.
- Idling for more than 60 seconds wastes money and fuel, and produces greenhouse gases.
- Idling tailpipes spew out pollutants linked to asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and cancer.
- The best way to warm up a car is to drive it, not idle it; idling puts wear and tear on your engine
Transportation represents roughly 50% of global carbon emissions, the major contributor to global warming, and idling contributes. Turning off the engine of a parked car can help protect the climate.
Idling is also routinely shown to be bad for human health. Exhaust from idling vehicles can cause or aggravate heart conditions, interfere with the production and maturation of blood cells, cause chronic bronchitis, asthma, severe blood clots, lung cancer, or, in large doses, death.
But what about hybrids and electric cars, you might wonder? While hybrids and light-duty vehicles with advanced emission control technologies have reduced harmful emissions, the majority of vehicles are older are often poorly maintained; idling just contributes to wear and tear on old emission controls and diminishes the vehicles’ overall functioning. And while those driving biodiesel-operated commercial vehicles may consider their vehicle “green” because it uses a CO2-absorbing biofuel, the diesel still spews particulate matter and is far worse than exhaust from unleaded engines.
We Shouldn’t Take this Lying Down
Reducing idling is one essential step toward reducing pollution and carbon emissions and improving our community’s health. How do we do this? My research shows several options. First, California does have a truck idling law. Diesel trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds are prohibited from idling for more than five minutes. Why not a similar law for automobiles? We could adopt a law similar to the Ketchum, Id. ordinance. In Ketchum, a tourist destination a snowball’s throw from Sun Valley, police officers can slap a $100 fine on drivers idling for more than three minutes.
Alternatively, we could adopt the Jackson, Wy. model: run an education campaign to wake people up about turning off their engine, using city funds to pay for signage and other advertising. If towns in red states Wyoming and Idaho can pass local ordinances to protect the environment, surely Palo Alto could, too.
I’ve submitted a proposal to several Palo Alto city council members, spoken to staff at Acterra, the California Air Resources Board, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and numerous other organizations and individuals. In light of their responses, I believe that we should begin with an educational campaign to remind people of the merits of turning off their engines while parked. I am in conversation with Palo Alto’s Assistant Director of Public Works, Phil Bobel, about producing “no idling” signs and distributing them to merchants in high volume parking areas, where drivers leave their engines running while picking up their pizzas or drug prescriptions.
Persistence and lots of voices put new policies in place. I welcome ideas and collaboration with those who are similarly irked by idling drivers. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can eradicate car idling together!