Sustainable America Blog

Anti-Idling Laws Around the Nation

Did you know that if you let your car idle for more than 10 seconds when you’re at, say, a drive-up ATM, you would save fuel by turning it off? And did you know that every day Americans waste approximately 3.8 million gallons of fuel simply by idling? Most of us were taught that it wastes more gas to turn a car off and on than to let it idle, but with the electronic ignitions that are ubiquitous today, that is no longer the case.

Idling not only wastes gas (and gas money!), it also contributes needlessly to air pollution. An idling vehicle releases as much pollution as a car that is driving, and the pollution from vehicle exhaust has been linked to asthma and other lung diseases, allergies, heart disease, increased risk of infections and cancer and other health problems. Given that there are 1.8 cars per average U.S. household, eliminating just 5 minutes of idling per day per family would save 400-800 lbs of CO2 from being released into the air over the course of a year.

To help curb the health and environmental hazards of idling, 19 states have passed anti-idling regulations in the last few years. Some of the most extreme are in Utah, where a first-time idling violation brings a $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in prison, and New York state, where a first-time violation can bring a fine up to $15,000.

Some of the other fines for idling around the country:

  • Las Vegas: $10,000 maximum fine
  • Hawaii: 3 minutes of idling will cost you $25 to $2,500
  • Denver: 10 minutes of idling in an hour will bring a fine of $999 and/or one-year imprisonment
  • Virginia: 10 minutes of idling in a residential or commercial zone carries a fine up to $25,000

These laws are a good start to solving the problem, but in order to make an impact, they need to be enforced, which isn’t always the case. New York City made its anti-idling laws more strict in 2009, but then was criticized for loosely enforcing them. Where the city issues some 10 million parking tickets every year, it only issues a few thousand idling tickets despite the fact that the rule, which allows for no more than 1 minute of idling when near a school, is so frequently violated. In Philadelphia, however, the Clean Air Council crowdsources citizens to help enforce idling laws by providing an easy way to report violations though a web-based tool at idlefreephilly.org.

Sustainable America is launching a nationwide campaign to curb idling this year. Our goal is to reduce oil usage in America by 50% by 2035 in order to increase energy security and sustainability in this country. We see the potential for every driver to make a difference in reducing America’s oil usage simply by turning off their vehicle instead of idling it whenever possible.

The next time you’re out running errands or picking up the kids from school, try counting the seconds each time you’re idle—chances are you’ll find a few opportunities to turn off the car. If you want to do more, get to know the idling laws in your area. If we can all remember to do our part and take this simple action a few times each day, together we can save vast amounts of oil and create a more sustainable America.

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By the Numbers

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10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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