‘Big fines’ on the cards for engine idling fleets as Government looks to crackdown on air pollution

A crackdown on engine idling – with commercial vehicles and company cars particularly in the firing line with possible ‘big fines’ – is on the cards.

The Government is reportedly considering proposals to reduce engine idling as part of its strategy to improve air quality with, it is suggested, local authorities likely to be given additional powers.

What’s more reducing engine idling is claimed to be one of the quickest ways for fleets to cut their fuel bills. Telematics provide fleet operators with a useful tool to measure and monitor driver behaviour including reducing incidents of engine idling. One provider claimed fleets had reported fuel savings of 10-18% based on cutting idle times alone, while clients had suggested it had discovered that drivers were clocking up 40-70 minutes engine idling time each day.

Presently local authorities have the power to issue £20 fixed penalty notices – £80 in parts of London – for emission offences and stationary idling under The Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002, but that power is rarely used. What’s more, a fine is imposed only if a driver refuses to switch off their vehicle’s engine off when asked to do so by an authorised person.

Meanwhile, the Highway Code (rule 123) says “you must not leave a parked vehicle unattended with the engine running or leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road”.

Highlighting the scourge of engine idling, Nickie Aiken, the leader of Westminster City Council, was quoted on The Guardian’s website as saying that engine idling needlessly added to air pollution and drivers’ habits needed to change.

The Council has urged the Government to allow for the punishment of companies whose drivers are repeatedly caught idling with fines of more than £1,000, saying delivery drivers and commercial vehicles were the worst offenders.

Ms Aiken added that nothing less than a four-figure sum would serve as a “sufficient deterrent” for large companies whose drivers continued “widespread and persistent idling even after being asked”.

The Department for Transport is expected to issue new guidance on engine idling to local authorities later this year.

The RAC says: “[Engine] idling increases the amount of exhaust fumes in the air. These fumes contain a number of harmful gasses including carbon dioxide, which is bad for the environment and contributes towards climate change, as well as a range of other harmful gasses including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons which are linked to asthma and other lung diseases. Diesel vehicles are thought to be one of the biggest contributors to the problem.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has also made recommendations about improving road-traffic-related air pollution. They include the possibility of local authorities introducing ‘No Idling Zones’ where authorised individuals such as traffic enforcement officers monitor vehicles.

Public Health England estimates long-term exposure to particulate air pollution has ‘an effect equivalent to’ around 25,000 deaths a year in England. That makes air pollution the largest environmental risk linked to deaths every year. Road traffic is estimated to contribute more than 64% of air pollution recorded in towns and cities.

RAC’s advice to stop engine idling

  • Try to consider how long you are going to be stationary in traffic. The RAC recommends that motorists turn off their engines if they think they are not going to move for around two minutes.
  • Many modern vehicles have ‘stop-start’ systems fitted that automatically switch off the engine when the vehicle is stationary and restart it as soon as the accelerator is pressed. Manufacturers allow this feature to be manually switched off, however we urge motorists not to do this. There is no risk to your vehicle in allowing this feature to be left on.
  • For vehicles without ‘stop-start’ it’s fine to turn off your engine, but you should try to avoid doing this repeatedly in a short space of time. In addition, older vehicles (around eight years old) and vehicles with older batteries (around five years old) may struggle if they are started too often in a short space of time.

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