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How do you reduce idling in your car or lorry?

Unnecessary idling could land you a £20 fixed penalty notice; in some places in London it’s up to £80. If that’s not enough to convince you to turn off your engine, let’s look at all the reasons and how you can do it.

Firstly, the Rule 123 of the Highway Code says that you must not leave a parked car unattended while the engine is running and you shouldn’t leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while it’s stationary on a public road. The law doesn’t apply to private premises, but it makes sense to reduce fuel usage.

Secondly, it’s an offence against the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002.

The main reasons for reducing engine idle time are:

  1. It will save you money because you’ll use less fuel (1-2 litres per hour less)
  2. It will reduce harmful exhaust emissions that cause health issues and climate change (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and more)
  3. It means less wear and tear on your engine which means less chance of needing expensive maintenance and repairs.

Is stopping and starting the engine bad for the vehicle?

Starting and stopping the engine a lot will wear out the starter motor and affect the battery in older vehicles. Many modern vehicles have automatic start/stop technology and those that don’t are capable of being turned on and off repeatedly with little chance of damage.

Are there any other downsides to turning your vehicle’s engine off?

  • Your air conditioning will not maintain a chilly temperature for long on a hot day, even if you leave the ignition on.
  • If you are at the head of a queue (e.g. at traffic lights), you will have to anticipate the green light otherwise the delay while you are turning your engine on again is enough to prevent one or more vehicles behind you from getting through the lights, thus increasing their waiting time.

When should you idle your engine while stationary?

  • If you are defrosting your windows (cars only as trucks should have cab heaters to help with this)
  • If you are definitely only stopped for less than one minute

What are some of the possible negative health effects that unnecessary idling contributes to?

  • In the UK, about 64,000 with air pollution being a major cause and 29,000 where air pollution was a contributing factor. This includes all forms of air pollution from vehicles, factories, etc, but not cigarette use.
  • The average life expectancy is reduced by 1.5 years because of air pollution
  • Air pollution is implicated in reduced cognitive ability – i.e. it’s making us stupid
  • Air pollution may contribute to diabetes and other illnesses.

Workplace driving

Having a policy to reduce idling is the best start. This will allow you to start the conversation with your drivers so that they understand the benefits to the company.

Sample policy wording:

[Company] cares about the environment and to do our bit, we’d like to reduce the impact of vehicle idling. Idling engines negatively impact your health, the health of people around your vehicle and the environment. An idling engine can emit more than twice as many pollutants per minute as when driving and can use up to two litres of fuel every hour. We’re committed to reducing unnecessary idling while waiting to be loaded and unloaded, in stationary traffic queues and any times where your vehicle will not be moving for at least a minute. Unless you need the engine’s power to operate other machinery, switch your engine off when possible.

Lorries and buses

Lorries can use battery-powered heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to provide power to any devices in sleeper cabs, plus run the air conditioning and heater while parked up (if not at a truck stop where plug-in power is available) or warming up.

Solar panels are available for roof kits and the top of trailers to provide charge to a battery that will power devices and services.

Buses should be turned off at bus stands and only restarted when they are ready to depart. The engine should be stopped as soon as possible.

Lorry drivers should use cab curtains to prevent heat loss and to shade the interior.

The colour choice of a vehicle can dramatically influence how much cooling it needs in bright sunlight: black vehicles are much hotter.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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