Motorists that let their engines idle while parked might face larger fines in a bid to improve air quality in the UK, the Department for Transport warned. It argued that an idling car produces enough exhaust emissions to fill one-hundred and fifty balloons per minute – although clearly there is a lot of variation.
The Department also emphasised that emissions contain pollutants such as cyanide, NOx (nitrogen oxide), and PM2.5 (particulate matter). These substances cause health issues that shorten lives such as heart attacks, lung disease, strokes, plus various cancers.
Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary, said: ‘We are determined to crack down on drivers who pollute our communities by leaving their engines running – particularly outside school gates where our children are breathing in the toxic air. Putting a stop to idling is an easy way to drive down dangerously high levels of pollution.
Highway Code Rule 123 explains how motorists are expected to behave. It says: ‘Generally if the vehicle is stationary and is likely to remain so for more than a couple of minutes, you should apply the parking brake and switch off the engine to reduce emissions and noise pollution.’ However, there are some exceptions.
‘It is permissible to leave the engine running if the vehicle is stationary in traffic or for diagnosing faults’, the rule confirms.
Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002
The Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002 already enable councils to fine motorists that let engines idle. Wardens can issue £20 Fixed Penalty Notices, for example. However, enforcement is rare. The Department for Transport, therefore, hopes to ‘guide’ councils so they can ‘enforce the law more effectively’.
Westminster Council is among those that punish motorists. Its Leader, Nickie Aiken, argued: ‘We need to change the way people think about engine idling.’ She added that her wardens have spoken to thousands of idling drivers and found most ‘do so out of habit.’
She further confirmed that explanation rather than punishment is often enough to change behaviour. Once drivers know the damage idling causes most are happy to switch their engines off, she revealed. Many then ‘think twice’ before they idle again. ‘Fines should be a last resort’, she suggested. ‘We prefer to ask nicely’.
The Department for Transport plans to launch a public consultation to see whether there is support for increasing the fine for motorists that idle while parked. It is likely to take place in summer 2019. All interested parties will have a chance to comment.