A summation of Idle Reduction Benefits and Considerations from the U.S. Dept. of Energy: Alternative Fuels Data Center.
IDLING IS MONEY OUT THE TAILPIPE - even with current reductions in fuel costs
Fuel waste: Whether a light-duty car, SUV or pickup, or commercial truck, needless idling burns our hard earned dollars or company profits through the tailpipe. An idling vehicle gets 0 miles per gallon. Also note that as fossil fuels are being depleted in the face of ever increasing world demand, exploration costs increase, leading to inevitably increasing fuel prices.
Engine wear: According to several reliable sources, including the comprehensive 2013 study: Oak Ridge National Laboratory Operations Best Practices Guide: Idle Reduction (page 2 of study), "Excessive idling can create engine wear and carbon soot buildup in the engine and components". This can lead to increased engine maintenance and shortened engine life for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles. For similar reasons, many owners manuals recommend avoiding excessive idling. Excessive idling causes adhering to a "severe duty" maintenance schedule.
IMPROVE AIR QUALITY / IMPROVE OUR HEALTH - exhaust emissions cause respiratory illness
Health impact: light-duty gasoline & diesel: Modern light-duty internal combustion engine vehicles, despite emissions controls, still emit harmful levels of exhaust chemicals, such as carbon monoxide (and carbon monoxide poisoning), nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, and benzene. These emissions are more toxic during idling, particularly during hot and cold weather extremes.
Gasoline Engine Emissions and Health fact sheet from the American Lung Association in Vermont.
Health impact: medium- & heavy-duty diesel: Many commercial vehicles and school buses are equipped with diesel engines. They are durable, economical sources of power. But diesels, especially those manufactured prior to 2007, contain toxic exhaust components such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that cause significantly higher levels of harmful emissions when idling. Clean Air Task Force studies: Problems of Diesel and Vermont Diesel Soot Health Impacts.
Overall health impact: Prolonged exposure of these emissions can cause cancer over time, exacerbate heart conditions, and cause or exacerbate asthma. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable. Vermont does not escape these exposures, indeed, with the highest rate of adult asthma in the nation.
SLOW THE ADVANCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE - exhaust emissions contain carbon dioxide (CO2)
Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, including carbon dioxide (CO2), contribute to climate change. The world's scientists tell us that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. But in May 2013 we have crossed the threshold of 400 ppm.
Overwhelming scientific evidence, including from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) link climate change to the earth's highest ever average annual temperatures, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, increasingly severe weather events, droughts, wildfires, flooding, and to the threat of many plant and animal species. These changes are being felt in Vermont as well. Climate change is warming the state and is increasing extreme weather events, such as Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. This will impact Vermont's ski, maple sugaring, tourist industries, its people, and more.
Even the Pentagon, which already ranks climate change as a national security threat, was warned in an expert report prepared for the intelligence community by the by the National Academy of Sciences to stand guard against "climate surprises" which could throw off its efforts to secure America's future.
- According to a University of Vermont Transportation Research Center 2014 passenger vehicle idling report, Vermonters idle vehicles voluntarily (while parked) for 9.6 million hours annually, equating to emitting 36,500 metric tons of CO2e into the atmosphere. This does not even include heavy-duty trucks and buses.
CONSERVE ENERGY - unnecessary idling contributes to fossil fuel use
Many of us are aware of conserving and saving energy. We're in the habit of turning off lights when leaving a room, and we know about recycling beverage containers. Turning off the keys of our parked vehicles is a great energy conserving habit to get into.
According to the Dept. of Energy, the idling of light- and heavy-duty vehicles combined in the U.S. burns about 6 BILLION gallons of fuel annually. And according to a comprehensive study on the idling of just passenger vehicles conducted by Vanderbilt University, voluntary idling alone (idling when parked) in the U.S. accounts for about 1.8 billion gallons of fuel used annually. [Page 5, Table 3 of study]
According to a University of Vermont Transportation Research Center 2014 passenger vehicle idling report, it is estimated that Vermonters idle vehicles voluntarily (while parked) for 9.6 million hours annually, consuming 4.1 million gallons of fuel (based on passenger vehicle — car/SUV/light-duty truck — idling consumption of 0.43 gal/hr). This does not even include heavy-duty trucks and buses.
Most gasoline is derived from crude oil, a non-renewable resource. While the threat of depletion of oil has lessened — as North America slowly transitions from exporting foreign "conventional" petroleum to the extraction of "unconventional" petroleum (primarily using the method of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking") — the critical challenge of the future remains to transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable forms of energy. Why? Unconventional oil is much harder to extract making it more expensive, much dirtier (tar sands, aka oil sands or bituminous oil), more environmentally harmful (fracking process and threat of pipeline spills), and will increase the challenge of tackling the global climate crisis. Oil will always be harmful to humans and our planet, from extraction through emissions.
COMPLY WITH LAWS - Vermont has laws that restrict idling
• The State of Vermont Prohibited idling of motor vehicles law limits idling of all motor vehicles while parked to five minutes in any 60-minute period, with exceptions.
• Vermont's school bus idling rule restricts the idling of school buses on school grounds. There is also an option in the law for school boards in each district to adopt idling policies for motor vehicles other than school buses (employees, students, parents, delivery, etc.) when present on school grounds.
• 23 V.S.A. § 1111. Unattended motor vehicle prohibits allowing a vehicle's engine to run while unattended in public.
• 23 V.S.A. § 1222a. Emissions of diesel-powered commercial vehicles (aka Smoky Truck Law): Observe a commercial truck spewing black soot from the exhaust? It may be stopped and an inspection performed if it appears vehicle exhaust exceeds standard.
• The City of Burlington has an idling restriction ordinance (Chapter 20 Motor Vehicles and Traffic > 20-55 General Prohibitions - scroll to (e) ).
For more details on idling laws, visit the Idling Laws page.