Laws against idling vehicles are on the books across the country, but in many places, including New York City, they aren’t heavily enforced. New York City Council members Helen Rosenthal and Donovan Richards are hoping to change that by introducing a bill on Wednesday that will reward citizens for reporting idling violators. If adopted, citizens could upload videos of idling vehicles to a city website and receive a payment if fines are collected.
In New York City, it’s illegal to idle for more than 3 minutes and more than 1 minute in school zones, and fines start at $350. The proposed bill allows a person who submits a video to receive up to half of the fine collected. If enacted, we hope this law will provide an incentive to encourage more sustainable driving behaviors. There was a time when we didn’t wear seat belts, and now that is routine. We would love to see turning off your car when it’s not moving become second nature.
A rally to support this bill is happening tomorrow, March 10, at 11 a.m. on the steps of New York’s City Hall, and I will be there to speak and show support for the bill. We commend City Council for taking up this important issue of idling, and hope that New York will become a leader nationwide in an effort to save the country fuel, promote clean air and make a more sustainable America.
Sustainable America has been working on the issue of unnecessary engine idling for several years because it is such a simple way for the public and municipalities to save money while at the same time benefitting the environment.
The statistics are stunning. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, individual drivers waste almost 4 million gallons of fuel every day through unnecessary idling. That’s enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools with fuel. Or, put another way, that’s 200,000 barrels of oil wasted each and every day.
On top of that, workday idling by commercial trucks across the country wastes another 4 million gallons of gasoline and an additional 3 million gallons of diesel. Carbon dioxide from idling vehicles contributes to global warming; idling cars and trucks in New York City alone produce 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
To make matters worse, it is well documented that vehicle exhaust exacerbates asthma and lung diseases. It has also been shown to especially affect pregnant mothers and children. These health issues are critical and they also have economic costs. Our kids miss school from asthma attacks; our hospitals are filled with people suffering from lung problems.
The great news is that solutions are easy, and we all have a part to play, even if we don’t live in New York. In my own car, the catchphrase is “Don’t sit idle. Turn it off.” Sustainable America has developed a campaign called I Turn It Off that helps individuals understand that they can save three to five trips to the gas station every year just by turning off their engine when they are dropping their kids off at school, when they just need to run into the store for a minute, at the car wash, and at every single drive-thru.
This is because you start saving money after just 10 seconds of cutting off your engine. That is, every time you are not moving for 10 seconds or more, you will save money by turning off and restarting. Now, when the weather is as brutally cold as it has been recently or on the hottest summer days, of course, you should be reasonable. But most of the year, there are opportunities all day long to save money, our health, and the environment, all with this one simple task.
There’s also an opportunity for anyone who owns a fleet of vehicles to make an impact on this issue. We worked with a restaurant uniform and linen delivery company and discovered that their drivers were idling over an hour each day. We helped them put an idling reduction program in place that saved them $1,000 per truck per year in fuel costs. They have a fleet of 75 vehicles. Imagine what we could save the city of New York by doing the same.
The trick is that it’s not just driver behavior, there are also inexpensive technologies that can be used. There are companies like GeoTab that use telematics devices to help fleet managers understand which drivers are idling excessively and help them reduce fuel waste. eNow Energy is putting thin film solar panels on municipal and fleet vehicles to help them run emergency lights or lift gates on solar power rather than the engine.
We have the power to make a difference. It’s your turn; turn it off.
Want to do more to reduce vehicle idling? Donate to Sustainable America to support our work to help vehicle fleets reduce idling.