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Idling Your Car: Illegal And Costly

Idling your engine for more than 5 minutes is not only illegal but causes health and climate problems.

Do you see cars idling while in the pickup line at school, in the driveway warming up in the winter, or waiting for someone to run into a store?   It’s actually against Massachusetts state law to idle a vehicle for more than 5 minutes.  It is punishable by a fine of up to $100 for the first offense and up to $500 for a second offense. 

We need to drive our cars to get places.  We don’t need to idle the engines.  

From the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), “The goal of the Massachusetts Anti-Idling law is to improve air quality by reducing unnecessary air pollution from idling vehicles.”

A typical vehicle produces more pollution when idling longer than 10 seconds than it will restarting the engine.  If you plan to be stopped for more than 10 seconds, shut off your car.

Unnecessary idling causes the following:

Air Quality Issues

Vehicles emit carbon dioxide while running.  An hour of idling can release almost 4 pounds of needless carbon dioxide into the air.  As we know, carbon dioxide adds to greenhouse gases in the environment.  These greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. 

Health Effects

Many other gases are released while a car runs.  Carbon monoxide can reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.  Nitrogen oxide, another component of vehicle exhaust, can irritate air passages and lungs.  Car exhaust can cause headaches, aggravate asthma and allergies and impair learning.  Children are particularly vulnerable.  Their lungs are immature and since they are shorter, their breathing space is closer to the emissions. 

Wasted fuel

Depending on the size of the engine, idling can use ¼ to ½ gallon of fuel per hour. Many experts agree that warming your car for 30 seconds is sufficient in cold weather.

School buses have diesel engines.  While they are durable and economical, the pollution from diesel engines is a growing concern.  Some studies indicate that over time, exposure to diesel exhaust can cause cancer and other health problems.  MassDEP is working with schools to reduce children's exposure to diesel exhaust.

I have noticed that school buses in Westford do not idle while waiting.  Yeah bus drivers!

Are there “No Idling” signs at Westford schools?   I haven’t noticed any at my children’s schools.  Although the few times I am in the car line, no one seems to be idling.  At least not in good weather.  So good for you Westford-ians!

As the weather gets colder, remember to bundle up if you will be sitting in your car and shut off the engine.

Sally Rosenthal November 23, 2011 at 01:27 AM
Love this! It's such an easy way to make a difference! Thanks for the article.
Andrew Sylvia November 23, 2011 at 02:45 AM
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection praised this article today on Twitter. Good work, Kristina!
Kristina Greene November 23, 2011 at 12:06 PM
It is so easy Sally! My children aren't car riders, but I often think of all the exhaust some children are inhaling. Especially on pickup where they are waiting for their parents. Thanks MassDEP and back at you!
K Bates November 23, 2011 at 01:54 PM
I am reading this while waiting in the school drop off line. The 4 cars in front of me have all been idling for more than 5 minutes.
Kristina Greene November 23, 2011 at 03:40 PM
That's not good! Did you show them the article???? ;)


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