Earth Matters: Ills from the idling of cars

Earth Matters: Ills from the idling of cars

Winter is upon us and that seems to mean more people sitting in cars with the engines running, but the car not moving, otherwise known as idling.
Idling vehicles, whether compact cars, SUVs or larger delivery trucks and buses, are problematic for several reasons.
An idling vehicle is almost as polluting as a moving vehicle. Even though the vehicle isn’t moving, it is still releasing greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, into the air through the exhaust.

In our region, idling engines create dozens of tons of sooty particles, hundreds of tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides, thousands of tons of volatile organic compounds and of carbon monoxide and hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide.

All of this means worse air quality, which causes thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations and millions of lost workdays, in addition to contributing to climate change. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, eliminating personal vehicle idling would be equivalent to taking 5 million vehicles off the road or nearly 2 percent of the vehicles on the road in the United States in 2019.
Because the engine is still engaged while the vehicle idles, gas is consumed. An estimated 6 billion gallons of fuel are wasted each year as a result of idling. With the national average price of gas in 2019 ranging between $2.25 and $2.58, that is a loss of $13,500,000,000 – $15,480,000,000. That is an annual loss of approximately $58 per registered vehicle in the United States.
Idling also inflicts wear and tear on engines, leading to higher maintenance costs. Idling causes residues from fuel to build up on the engine components, which can cause damage to various engine parts including spark plugs and the exhaust system.

According to the EPA, running an engine at low speed (as is done when idling), causes twice the wear on internal parts as does driving at regular speeds. This can increase maintenance costs by as much as $2,000 per year and shorten the life of the engine according to the American Trucking Association.
Then, of course, there is the health cost of idling vehicles. Exhaust fumes from cars and other vehicles are linked to asthma, cancer, cardiac disease and other serious health risks, particularly in vulnerable populations.

According to recent studies by the World Bank and the Health Effects Institute, nearly three times as many people, roughly 100,000, die from air-pollution-related deaths compared to fatalities from car accidents.
Pollution like smog and soot from vehicle exhaust can do serious damage your body. As you breathe, the polluted air can irritate and damage your lungs. Drivers sitting in idling cars breathe in the emissions from the exhaust, including carbon dioxide, which can cause serious health concerns when breathed in over time.
But the driver isn’t just damaging his/her own health. Typically, people idle cars in areas that can affect a lot of people – along sidewalks, schoolyards, playgrounds, hospitals, shops, businesses, and homes.

Idling in these locations is destructive to the people who live nearby who face significantly elevated risks of cancer and diseases like asthma. Vehicle idling even affects the growth and development of children. For example, vehicle exhaust pollution has been linked to stunted childhood lung development, adverse birth outcomes, lower IQ scores, cancer and other diseases contributing to premature death.
Thankfully twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., limit idling by some or all vehicles. Unfortunately, New York State is not one of the states that limits personal vehicle idling. In NY state, heavy-duty vehicles may not idle more than 5 consecutive minutes with some exceptions. Buses must be turned off when loading or unloading passengers on school grounds or near a school. Those are the only state limitations on idling. Long Island has no additional restrictions.
The truth is, there is no benefit to idling modern cars.

By driving without overly revving the engine, drivers can warm up the vehicle more quickly and reduce the impact on their health than they can by idling. Idling your car only does damage to your health, air quality, and the car’s longevity.

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