Arizona Daily Sun - Feb 15, 2020

Dear EarthTalk: Every day when I pick up my kids at school, all the parents wait in their cars with the engines running. Is all this idling a significant contributor to the atmosphere’s carbon burden or am I being a worry wart over nothing?
-- Mary B., Burlington, VT

Idling is indeed a scourge on the environment, given the noxious emissions coming out of our engines. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), a single vehicle dropping off and picking up a kid at school each day adds three pounds of air pollution to the atmosphere per month from idling. The 250 million personal vehicles on the road in the U.S. alone generate about 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every year just by idling. DoE reports that eliminating unnecessary idling by personal vehicles would be equivalent in emissions reductions to taking five million vehicles off the road.

Personal cars are only part of the problem. About half of the six billion gallons of fuel we waste on idling each year in the U.S. comes from commercial vehicles. We’ve all seen those delivery trucks with their engines humming while the driver eats his lunch inside or makes his rounds of deliveries on foot. But this kind of irresponsible behavior is actually against the law in 41 U.S. states (some of these restrictions are in municipalities but not necessarily state-wide). The rules vary by jurisdiction. A few states have outlawed idling altogether with the majority of others limiting it to five minutes before fines kick in.

Environmental activist George Pakenham made news last year by collecting some $9,000 in bounty payments for reporting commercial vehicle idling around New York City as part of a new anti-idling ordinance (successful tattlers get 25 percent of the fines they call in, which range from $300-$2,000).

What’s surprising is how much idling still goes on, given that most modern engines run better—and warm up faster—while in motion. And you won’t cause any measurable wear-and-tear on your car or truck by turning it off and on instead of idling, given the sturdiness of modern-day starters and batteries.

The non-profit Sustainable America launched its #TurnItOff campaign to spread awareness about the need to reduce or eliminate wasteful automotive idling. The group recommends that if you’re pulled out of traffic and going to be waiting for more than 10 seconds, do everyone around you and the environment a favor by turning off your engine. (If you have a hybrid or electric car —or a newer internal combustion car with so-called “stop-start” technology—you’re already part of the solution, as these vehicles shut themselves off when at a complete stop and then come back to life when the driver steps on the gas.)

While preventing automobile idling may be an up-hill battle, the shift to hybrid and electric engines is a step in the right direction. Maybe one day when all the vehicles on the road are zero-emission EVs, idling won’t be an issue anymore. But until then, whether you’re a mom at school pick-up or a delivery driver between drops, be responsible and shut it off while you wait.

learn moreMost drivers don’t mean to be wasteful when they choose to idle. They just don’t really think about it. Some of them might even be reasoning that restarting the vehicle wastes more gas when compared to letting it run. With the right facts, they are more than willing to alter their behavior. With that in mind, we have put together some unique initiatives that you can take to raise awareness amongst your friends, family members and drivers you know to stop idling.

Use your social superpowers
It’s time to turn on your social media influence and share your enthusiasm for idling with your social networks. Need facts to back your claims?

Fill out our form and get them all. Tailor your message based on the social media website that you are leveraging to be an idling influencer.

For instance, you can use Facebook to share your insights on the amount of money you’ve saved since you’ve stopped idling.

You can use your professional networking website to share details on how not idling on your way to work has helped you improve the air quality of the city.

Launch an anti-idling campaign in your community

From posting signs to raise awareness to encouraging members of your community to get on board for a safer and healthier community, there are a number of ways to launch a campaign. Determine motivators to change idling behavior.

Parents seem to be motivated by messages that refer to the health of their children such as - Idling at school is extremely dangerous to your child’s health as childhood asthma is on the rise and there is a direct link to air quality.

From sharing an article to your church bulletin to organizing a pledge drive, there are a number of initiatives that you can take as a part of your awareness campaign.

It is a great idea to recruit volunteers help to have some extra help while you undertake such campaigns.

Who doesn't enjoy a movie? We hope that you would be able to screen Idle Threat, a lively look at one man’s spirited struggle to improve public health by raising awareness about idling’s impact, starting in New York City.

get paid to report idling in NYCThere are quite a few folks in NY who have made reporting idlers into a lucrative side hustle. Following the creation of a reward program for ratting out idlers, the number of summonses that were issued for violating the city’s anti-idling law went up multi-fold. Watch this video to know how you can get a fair bit of coin for your efforts to improve the air quality of the city.

Lucrative reward program
It took 47 tips for lawyer David Dong to earn $4,912.80. Zachary Tinkelman managed to earn $4,600 from reporting idlers in the city. In fact, a story in NY Post has reported that 13 individuals have earned nearly $20,000 for reporting idling vehicles. The law limits the citizen complaint program to trucks and buses. However, that has not stopped citizens from garnering evidence to report trucks that are used or maintained primarily for transportation of property and buses with a seating capacity of over 15 passengers. Citizens are expected to submit their completed complaint, affidavit with all supporting evidence on the Idling Compliant System

What do you need to submit the citizen complaint?

  • Firstly, you need a time and date stamped video that you have filmed right after you found a truck or a bus idling for over a minute next to a K-12 school or for over 3 minutes. The license plate and the company information of the vehicle needs to be recorded. You can even use a time and date stamped still picture or screengrab that clearly shows the license plate and the company name, address of the vehicle. If the complaint is about a bus, a time and date stamped still image from a weather agency that displays temperature above 40℉ at the time of the observation.
  • Secondly, you need to visit the Idling Compliant System and submit the complaint here and keep track of your complaints.
  • When the DEP issues summons, you will be informed and might require to be available in person or over the phone to testify. Based on the summons being upheld or dismissed, you would receive payment for your complaint.

Need help in time stamping your photo or video? Download the “Timestamp Camera Enterprise” application to your mobile device using the below links and get started!

This is one of the best ways to ensure that the city is free from needless idling. Share your thoughts and comments below and let us know if you have been successful in reporting an idling vehicle.