One would think that an idling engine would not cause much pollution because it is not powering the vehicle down the road. Although, common sense should tell us that it can not be good. The truth of the matter is that it causes more pollution than driving at a conservative rate, because the fuel is being burned inefficiently. I have not come up with a figure for conventional engines, but I have read that an idling diesel engine will put out 2.5 times more pollution than the vehicle being driven at 30 mph. I would think that it is similar with a conventional engine. When one stands near an idling engine, the fumes are more intense. A cold engine puts out the most amount of pollution while idling.
On the subject of cold engines, most Americans erroneously believe that the best way to warm up an engine when it is cold is to idle the engine. This is not true! The best way to warm up an engine is to drive it, because it warms up the engine much faster and it burns the fuel more efficiently. When the vehicle is driven, the heating system within the car will generate heat much faster. On cold mornings, the norm here in America is to go out start up the car with the heat on and go back inside to get ready for work. Often 15 - 20 minutes will elapse before the person actually drives the vehicle. It is very convenient, the car is warmed up, the inside is warm, but at what a cost to the environment & the engine! In addition, it is a waste of fuel. I have learned that in Germany, if one does that, it is a 300 Euro fine.
Idling causes unnecessary damage to the engine. Again, it burns the fuel inefficiently which fouls the spark plugs and is also bad for the cylinders as a result of accumulating fuel residues. If the engine is idling for an extended period of time--over 15 min.--condensation will develop in the exhaust system and lead to corrosion. Depending on the temperature, one should only idle for a few seconds and then slowly drive the vehicle. This is something that a motorist should develop a feel for with their vehicle. I have heard on that syndicated talk show, 'Car Talk,' if it is 0 degrees Fahrenheit, idle the engine maximum one minute. Again, this is something one should develop a feel for with their engine. Excessive idling is bad for the engine, bad for the environment and a waste of fuel. Idling for 10 minutes, burns enough fuel to drive the vehicle an average of 5 miles; 2 minutes idling, 1 mile on the road.
There is definitely a lack of education in America on the subject of idling. There are no public service announcements on radio or TV. There is nothing in a driver's manual on how bad idling is. It is generally not taught in schools in Driver's Education. There are very few signs posted--they are small & inconspicuous. On the back of inspection stickers there is a message urging motorists not to idle. Idling in America is rampant and excessive! Although, I base this on my experience living in New Jersey, I believe I can safely assume that it is major problem through out the country. America is becoming a country of standardization. Here is a verse from the song "The Poet Game" by Greg Brown, 'I watched my country turn into a coast-to-coast strip mall.' Sad, but true! I term this type of commercial development as development geared towards automobiles and not people. At these strip malls, shopping plazas and malls in general, one will find--during business hours--cars idling excessively! At shopping plazas, there are always motorists parked in the fire zone--which is illegal--waiting for the person they dropped off to shop, with their car idling. Their rational behind the idling must be, in case the police are around, they can say they are not parked, they're about to pull out. It is very convenient for the person who is being dropped off and convenient for the motorist who does not have to bother with parking the vehicle in a parking place. Convenient, but not good for people in the immediate area that have to breath this 'ground level ozone.' Of course the misconceptions of engines by people is that it will take more fuel to restart a car than leaving it running. I invariably here this refrain. Of course, there is a point in time when one is burning more fuel than during the engine restart. Well, with today's engines, that point is 10 seconds. Anything over 10 seconds is a waste of fuel! Motorists also think that shutting off an engine and starting it back up is not good for the starter. It actually has very little impact, where as idling causes more wear on the engine. One has to wonder what ever happened to the concept of 'energy conservation.' Answer: It went out the window some 35 years ago!
In addition to the malls, common places you find this excessive idling are at schools, train stations and anywhere people are getting picked up. Americans are not that independent. The mother in this country becomes a chauffeur. In Europe, the children are more independent. There are more bike paths for children to utilize bicycles. The roads are safer due to the fact that there are less cars per capita. In addition, their driving schools are more comprehensive when it comes to motorists dealing with bicyclists. Subsequently, the roads are much safer for bicyclists to use.
There was an article on the front page of The Daily Record--a Morris Co. paper--back in November of '06 entitled, "Push is on to Protect Little Lungs at Schools." The article is about parents picking up their kids at school and idling their engines. When the temperature is at the uncomfortable level, 50% of the parents were idling their engines up to 20 minutes, ironically creating an unhealthy atmosphere for the children coming out of the school. Children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of breathing in these noxious fumes because their immune systems are not fully developed. Older people are at risk as well because their immune systems weaken with age.
Kinnelon was the first school district in NJ to start a program to educate the parents picking up their kids. Chatham & New Providence soon followed. However, the movement seems to have, by & large, died out. I thought as a result of this article, things would start to change. I actually gave the article to principal at a nearby grammar school in Hackettstown where I had lived for 12 years. I would sometimes pass at recess and noticed there were a lot of parents idling their engines, waiting for the children to exit the school. I was hoping, as a result of giving the article to the principal, that it would bring about a change within the school district. Alas, there has been no change in the situation. I returned to see the principal to ask her about the article. She said she had given it to the superintendent of schools, who no doubt filed it in the 'circular file.' It is surprising that an institution of education would not be concerned about the environment and the health of the students attending the school. Apparently, she did not want to ruffle any feathers. This also shows the prevalent disregard for the environment that a lot of Americans have. I am sure in states like Oregon and Colorado, things are different. Oregon has always been known for it's awareness of what it has and it's concern about keeping it. Oregon is quite a contrast to New Jersey.
There are idling laws throughout the country that are generally limiting motorists to 3 minutes. Here in NJ, the 3 minute law was enacted back in '71. What has the NJ Department of Environment been doing for the last 40 years to stop the idling? Answer: Not enough! What has the State government done to educate people and enforce the law? In reference to enforcing the law, Nothing! It was back in the 60's that the environment became a concern here and around the world. I find this unfathomable that this law has been on the books for 40 years and nobody knows about it! What is the point to have a law--an important law--if it is not being enforced and it is not being put out to the people. A lot of police officers don't even know that an idling law exists. I have heard on several occasions in reference to the idling laws, a police officer state, "It has to be posted." Not true! It does not matter where the vehicle is idling,--it could be in a remote section of Montana--it is still contributing to greenhouse gases. I was once lamenting to a police officer that I had confided in because he concurred with me on the idling situation in this country. In reference to the lack of enforcement he stated, "We're the worst offenders!" He is absolutely correct. Of course, he and I both knew that emergency vehicles are exempt.
There is a problem with the current idling law in NJ that was updated in January of 2006. It reads: Motor vehicle statute C. 39:3-70.2 recently revised by legislature to clarify that violation includes idling in addition to visible smoke or contaminants in excess of standards. The problem with this revision is that it can be misinterpreted. A police officer told me that there has to be visible contaminants in order for a violation to occur. This is not true! The revision adds if there is an usually amount of smoke--for example due to too much oil being burned--than a summons can be written without exceeding the 3 minute limit. I have seen a judge dismiss a complaint because he thought that as long as the vehicle passed exhaust standards at a inspection station, then it is alright to idle. He was obviously referring to the 'visible contaminants' clause. Visible contaminants and 3 minute idling are two separate issues. Just because there are no visible contaminants does not mean the engine is not polluting. Some of the most deadliest toxins are both colorless & odorless! I brought this up to the NJ DEP about how the revised idling law is rather ambiguous and should be revised. I received no response!
I have often seen people unloading cars, pick-up trucks, vans with their engines idling. They are no doubt breathing in the noxious fumes from the engine, especially when it is a van or a pick-up truck, they are at the rear of the vehicle where the exhaust is coming out. This shows how we take the air we breath for granted. We don't see any short term effects, but as we get older, respiratory problems will be manifested. Living in a state such as NJ, breathing this polluted air will take it's toll over time. We are more likely to develop serious respiratory problems as we get older.
Here in America we have so many things that lends itself to idling. The 'drive-up' services: fast food drive ups, bank and now drug store drive-ups. This is all catering to the lethargic propensities of Americans. The cell phone is also contributing to idling. Because of the threat of a fine from talking on a hand held phone while driving, motorists are pulling over to talk, but most are not shutting off their engines. Automatic starters are another contributor to the widespread idling. I was at the Summit Train Station one evening when I noticed a car--unoccupied--idling. Thinking that the motorist was in the train station, I waited to inform the motorist of how bad idling is for both engine & environment. I waited for over 20 minutes. I then wrote down the plate number and reported it to the local police department. I figured it might of been an automatic starter. I went back to the train station and eventually a police officer arrived--idling his engine--and he determined with a flashlight that it was indeed an automatic starter. The owner was called, but there was no answer. I requested a summons be written. He said, "I'm not going to write a summons because I don't know the circumstances behind why the engine started. It could be that the automatic starter malfunctioned." If a car is parked illegally, a police officer does not hesitate to write a summons. He does not ask, "Well, I don't know why the car is parked illegally." The summons is written and the violator has the option to contest the fine, plead guilty or ask the judge for leniency. It should be up to a judge, not a police officer! Numerous summons for parking violations are written daily, in every town throughout the state, but there are virtually no summons being issued to motorists that are exceeding the 3 minute limit. Not even excessive idling will incur a summons. Paradoxically, a parking violation does not harm the environment, whereas idling does great damage! Preventing needless damage to the environment should be a priority with the police. This reverts back to the lack of education on the subject. New York City is conscious of the idling laws. They do give out summons for excessive idling, but not New Jersey. I tend to think that this is wide spread throughout the states.
I eventually filed a complaint against the motorist at the train station, but it was dismissed because an error was made at the court office and the statue of limitations came in to play. I wanted to ask the individual when the car started up and when she arrived at the train station, to determine how long it was idling. By the time I left, the time idling was close to 90 minutes. I asked the judge if they were going to contact the woman and inform her of the violation. His response, "We're not hear to educate the public." Well, what are they there for, besides collecting money. Are not summons written as a form of negative reinforcement for the purpose of deterring the occurrence of something that is wrong from happening again? Police officers can easily make their quotas if they gave out idling fines at train stations, schools, shopping plazas, during peak hours and they would be educating the citizens of the idling laws.
The second worse offenders are taxis, livery and limousine services. They usually congregate at train stations idling their engines for hours, regardless of the temperature. Some how they think that if the car is running, they have a better chance of getting a customer. Yet, I have seen many times these taxi drivers asleep in the vehicle with the AC or the heat on, idling. That has to hurt their chances of getting work. It is certainly a disregard of the people's health who are coming and going at the train stations.
Automatic starters are designed so that one can warm-up the car by idling it. I have read from so many sources, that one should avoid idling the engine as a warm-up. Of course, the manufactures of these devices write it is necessary to warm-up a car by idling it. The manufacturer is not interested in engine damage, wasted fuel or the environment in general. They are interested in selling their product! Also, what happens when a car is programmed to start the engine at a certain time and something happens, whereby the individual is delayed, incapacitated, misses the train, etc....; more gratuitous idling, potentially for hours!
A few years back, I discovered a pick-up truck in an alley way in a town idling. It was right in the business district off of Main Street. The truck was unoccupied, except for a dog. The temperature was in the low to mid 70's. The windows were shut--as to keep the dog from escaping--and the AC was on. The vehicle was idling out of convenience. The individual did not have to take the dog with him or secure him inside the cab. With the windows up, this could potentially create risk for the dog. So, the engine idled. I waited for the motorist to arrive, but to no avail. After about 20 minutes, I noticed a patrol car and I flagged him over. I explained the idling law to him--which he was unaware of--and suggested he write a summons. He said, "I can't write a summons, I don't know the statue." I responded, "I can provide you with that later." I went to the police department with the statue. I thought that officer would then issue a summons for the violation. It was never issued. The vehicle was idling for at least 35 minutes.Who knows how long the vehicle was idling. The owner might of been having a tattoo made at a parlor that was nearby.
Things are starting to change, but the changes are too little and too slow! The Department of Environmental Protection and Mayor Bloomberg's administration has pressured NJ Transit to shut down their diesel locomotives overnight. Up until the recent pressure, they were running these diesels 24/7, 365 days a year, even in the summer. There are currently 32 diesel locomotives within NJ Transit's fleet. I was told by a senior conductor back in 2007, that NJ Transit had to shut them down overnight due to air quality regulations. The problem is that they are very difficult to start up in the morning, particularly if it is cold. Of course, the solution is what is termed as 'in line heaters.' They are special heaters to keep the engine and the oil within the engine warm to facilitate start up. I have seen similar devices used on diesel trucks. In addition, NJ Transit received $537,000 in grants to out fit 6 of their diesel locomotives with new starters which also will facilitate start ups. It is amazing that it took this many years to get them to shut them down when they are not in use. It is about 60 years too late. In the past, there were no doubt more diesels locomotives in the state of NJ, before they started electrifying the railroad lines--not all lines are electrified.
Despite the new mandate, there seems to be a discrepancy on idling diesel locomotives. I have been on several occasions at the Hoboken Terminal and noticed that they still leave a diesel locomotive running all night. It is the locomotive that runs to Hackettstown. I was told by a conductor that a diesel locomotive that idles overnight will burn approximately 100 gallons of diesel fuel--these engines are huge! The amount of pollutants must be extremely high from this idling. If idling a diesel truck engine is bad for the engine components, it must be bad for the locomotive's engine as well. Shutting down these locomotives is suppose to save the company $835,000 annually, but why wasn't something done decades ago? Why does it take outside pressure to do what should be common sense? Why are there so many apathetic Americans? Are people afraid to make waves? Lastly, why are there still diesel locomotives idling all night?
There seems to be a pervasive attitude that one can not shut off a diesel truck because they think they will have difficulties in restarting them. That was true in the past, but new technologies have made improvements to these engines. In the early 30's there were inherent problems with diesel engines. The engine design, heavy oils, poor batteries and cranking systems contributed to difficult start ups, especially in the extreme cold temperatures. Schedules had to be met and fuel costs were lower which led to the habit of idling the trucks rather than risk a non-start up. Since then, there have been improvements to the diesel engines, lubricants and fuels have helped prevented the gelling of diesel fuel in cold temperatures, which inhibits start ups. This habit of leaving them running has been passed on and is indelibly ingrained into the American mindset. The result is a lot of wasted fuel, more pollution and more wear on the engine.
According to an authority on diesel engine idling--Detroit Diesel--, "Diesel engines were designed to operate at peak efficiency running wide open. At low idle the cylinder temperature drops leading to incomplete combustion. This incomplete combustion leads to a carbon build up on the valves, in the oil (crankcase), and the head of the pistons." There are other damaging effects from idling to a diesel engine as well. "If the engine is going to be idling, low idle, for more than 5 minutes, shut it off."
Idling diesel engines costs the trucking industry 2.5 billion dollars a year in wasted fuel and engine wear! Trucks account for 56% of all US freight being shipped. There are 1.28 million long-haul trucks on our roads. Most of these trucks are diesel. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "on average, each idling truck produces about 21 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 0.3 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) annually. Diesel exhaust also contains particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and various air toxins." What makes diesels worse than conventional engines is fine particles that are emitted. These pollutants have been linked to asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and cancer. Diesel exhaust can trigger an asthma attack on an individual that has never had it.
Federal regulations--for long hauls--requires truckers to stop and sleep after so many hours of driving. A lot of the above cost to the trucking industry is a result of truckers pulling over at truck stops idling their engines sometimes as long as 6 hours. They idle to keep warm or cool--depending on the temperature--and run their appliances. Part of the solution is truck stop electrification. This is a system where by truckers plug in as opposed to idling their engines. Truck stop operators would charge about 76 cents an hour for the electricity. Truckers should consider when it is very cold to have bedding that is designed for the extreme cold. Personally, I have slept outside in temperatures 10 degrees below zero while working as a caretaker on an Island on Lake Hopatcong. I used a sleeping bag designed for the extreme cold. I had no problem with hypothermia. Of course, when it is that cold, the trucker would have to have access to electricity in order to use a heater for the engine.
It is important to note that there was a time in the past when this country heavily depended on the rail to ship freight--and people. Freight shipped by the rail is much more efficient and cheaper than trucks. There was a time that the rail system was extensive through out the U.S. For the most part, European countries retained their rail systems and are far better off for doing so. One can not ignore the fact that this country had a extensive trolley system that was very efficient and liked by the commuters. Every major city had a trolley system. They often extended into the suburbs, such as the city of Newark, NJ. The rail in this country was king! What ultimately lead to their disappearance was back in the late 40's, Standard Oil, Firestone, General Motors & a few other conglomerates got together and decided they wanted to get rid of the trolleys. Subsequently, trolleys were bought out. The people running the systems thought with the new takeover, the system would be maintained. The systems were taken over for the sole purpose of scrapping it! Essentially, our system of transportation was monopolized by corporate America. GM's motto was, "What's good for GM is good for the country!" Of course, one can see with the transportation mess we have that this is not true. To paraphrase Gordon Bishop, who use to write environmental column for the Star Ledger, "This system of transportation is leading us to economic and environmental ruin!" He is absolutely correct. The scrapping of the trolley system was one of the biggest mistakes this country made! To replace the system we had back then, today, would cost $300 billion. There was a class action suit brought on against GM for there involvement in the take over. They were fined $5,000 for their part. There profit in one year for selling bus equipment was 25 million. Some people may argue that GM employs a lot of people. Well, so did the trolley systems that were clean and more efficient than cars & buses. '60 Minutes' did an episode on the subject entitled, "Clang, Clang, Clang, went the Trolley." There was also a documentary made a few years back entitled, "Taken for a Ride." There are fine trolley systems all over Europe. Trolley systems are starting to return here, but they should of never been removed in the first place. They are now referred to as 'light rail.'
Bernard Lagat, who is naturalized Kenyan, has been in the Olympics three times as a middle distance runner for Kenya and for the U.S. In 2004, he earned a silver medal in the Olympics running the 1500 meter run. He was in the 2008 Olympics running for the US and will undoubtedly be representing us in the next Olympics at the age of 37. He has a summer house in Tübingen , Germany, where he often trains. After a long run, he started up his car and proceeded to do some stretching. A German came over and yelled at him. He could not understand why the man was so furious. Later that week he asked his German friends what he could have possibly done to upset the man. One responded, "Oh my God, your car wasn't running, was it?" That was indeed why the German was so upset. Gratuitous idling! Some might construe this as being too extreme, but when it comes to the environment and the ways things are going, there is no such thing as being too extreme! Americans have to get serious about the environment.
I lived in Germany for a total of 17 months back in the early 80's. I lived near a village that had a two lane, state highway going through it. The highway was only one lane as it meandered through the village some 300 meters. They could only let traffic through in one direction at a time. Consequently, the traffic light regulating the traffic flow had a long cycle, about 5-6 minutes. There was a sign on each end of the village, instructing motorists in German, if they should get the red light, they must shut off their engines. Everyone complied!
Child on Board
Here in New Jersey, there seems to be a disregard of the environment. One can see the apathy by the tons of litter that is strewn along our roadways desecrating the land. There is too much rationalization when it comes to the environment. When there is a child or an infant in the car I hear the same refrain, "I have a child/infant in the car so I have to run the engine for the heat/cool air." As if to say that the child or infant is going to succumb to either hypothermia or heat prostration. This is just a lame excuse to stubbornly not shut off the engine! It would take a long time being in a vehicle with the heat off to lower the temperature to an uncomfortable level, let alone a life threatening situation. If it is hot, an AC unit can potentially draw in the noxious fumes into the car. The worst place to be on a hot day is inside a vehicle. What about the poor that has to travel by public transportation with their infants and children? They are often exposed to the elements without shelter & heat. This is such a selfish attitude on the part of these people, especially if people are in the area breathing in these noxious fumes. I often ask these people what kind of world will their children inherit as a result of our selfish, extravagant, 'live for today, the hell with tomorrow' attitude!
I recently shoveled snow just after a snow storm with improper foot gear(sneakers). As anticipated, my feet got soaked. I was out for about 5 hours shoveling. This situation reminded me of an incident that occurred shortly after a snow storm back in '06. While bicycling from work to the train station late in the evening, I passed an individual using a snow blower on a sidewalk that ran along a wooded section. As I came up to a side street, I passed a van that was idling. The van was unoccupied and had a Department of Transportation seal on the door. I circled back surmising that the van belonged to the young man using the snow blower. I briefly informed him about how harmful idling is to both engine, environment and a waste of fuel. His belated response was, "I don't want to be here!" Then he gave me his reason for idling the van. He did not have proper shoes for the job, consequently his feet were wet. So, his rational for idling the van was he wanted to make sure the van was warm once he finished the job. My estimation is that the job was going to take at least an hour, in addition to loading the van. Imagine that, due to his irresponsibility he is ill-equipped, he is going to squander tax payers dollars on wasted fuel, unnecessary engine wear and a lot of pollution just because his feet are wet. That is absolutely absurd! We have to learn how to deal with the elements. We are too concerned with our immediate comfort at the expense of the environment.
If one is picking someone up and it is cold, park the car and go inside. If it is hot, get out of the vehicle and seek shade. On two separate occasions, at a country club, I have seen a livery driver asleep in the car on a hot day, with the air conditioner running while waiting for his party to finish a round of golf. A round of golf can take over 4 hours. I don't know if the vehicle was running that long, but in both cases it was excessive and not necessary. The driver could of either found a cool spot in the shade or could of gone in the clubhouse. It is an absolute disgrace to be idling an engine like that!
Idling is Everybody's Business
That is one thing I admired about Germans when I lived Germany, is that they are uninhibited. They see someone doing something wrong, they will say something. Here, you say something, and too often the response is, "Mind your own business!" However, idling is everbody's business! We all have to breath the air. What happened to our 5th Amendment, freedom of Speech? We are suppose to be living in a society that encourages one to speak out when something is wrong. Censorship is activily being used in our country at different levels. It seems to be that when ever one informs people that they are doing some thing wrong, they often pull out the 'harassment' card. A European friend who has been here since the early 80's said years ago, "Americans can't take criticism!"
Later than you Think
It seems that all these conveniences in our lives usually involves more burning of fossil fuels. If we want to lessen our impact on the environment, we have to make sacrifices. We have to change our extravagant ways. America represents about 4% of the Earth's population; we use 25% of the Earth's natural resources. I asked a young man who was idling his engine if he was concerned about global warming? His response, "It's a lie!" There are a lot of people that utilize what is termed as a 'defense mechanism,' denial. They refuse to believe it because they don't want to believe it! It is convenient not to believe it, because they don't have to make any sacrifices. They don't have to change their lifestyles.
"Global warming means global warning!" When it comes to the environment, I hear the rationalization invariably. I also witness, too often, 'the buck being passed.' No one wants to take responsibility. So, the earth's temperature is not rising, even though the weather records indicate otherwise. The polar caps & glaciers are not melting. This reminds me of an article I read back in the 80's entitled, "American Myopia." It was about how Americans wait until we are in crises before we make a move to change. By then, it is too late! We are doing irreparable damage to the environment! The folk singer & environmentalist Pete Seeger was interviewed back in the early 90's. He stated, "In 100 years, the Hudson river will be as clean as a whistle!" Mr. Seeger was instrumental behind the 'Hudson Clear Water Revival' movement. He did not elaborate on that statement, but I immediately knew exactly what he meant by it. Another words, at the rate we are going, we are not going to be around in 50 years. Mankind will be extinct! It will take another 50 years for the earth to purge it self from the abuse man has inflicted! That 100 year scenario is not only a possibility, but a probability! Quoting a professor of geology back in the mid 80's in reference to the environment, "It can't keep going the way it is!" Americans have to get serious about the environment. We can not live without a clean and healthy environment!
We can reduce a great deal of pollution and greenhouse gases through public awareness. Puting a message on the back of inspection stickers encouraging us not to idle helps, but it is not enough. There has to be public service announcements on both radio & TV. There should be a whole section in a Driver's Manuel devoted to idling. It should be mandated that every driver's education class devote a significant amount of time to idling. There has to be more and larger signs posted in areas where idling is occurring: schools, shopping plazas, strip malls train stations. At schools during drop off and especially pick-up time, they should bring out those standing signs that open up and place them on the sidewalk in close proximity to where the parents idle their engines. Perhaps with more awareness of how bad idling is, truckers will refrain from idling at truck stops for hours or at least cut back on the idling time. Education is the key to bringing about change. The message has to be repetitive. The last step is the enforcement of the idling laws. Police procedures have to change and/or alternatives have to be pursued. The law is not likely to be enforced if the police continue to set a bad example as they do.
The message is simple: If you're not driving your vehicle, shut it off. It's bad for the engine and bad for the environment!