Recently, when out for a cycle with The Boy, I came across two drivers both idling their engines, but one of which had left his vehicle, door wide open, to faff around securing a gate. After observing this for a minute or so, as the driver walked near me, I politely asked him to switch off his engine.
The driver’s response was along the lines of, “it’s alright, I’ll only be a minute” to which I told him he’d already been at least that long and that what he is doing is bad for the environment and that he shouldn’t be polluting the area with petrol fumes – besides which, idling is against the law. The driver had the tenacity to claim that it wasn’t a problem as the car was a diesel and that he was all for helping the environment. Still, he did not switch off his engine stating he was leaving at that point anyway.
After a bit of back and forth, the conversation culminated in me attempting to record the event on video including his registration, with the intention of filing a report. The driver became concerned at this point, asking me to not be silly, to which I restated that the law is clear. Also, leaving the engine idling for more than 10 seconds is more harmful than restarting it, residents surely would not appreciate the pollutants, and if he was really keen on environmental matters then he would simply switch off his engine – hardly a complex or onerous request – and that maybe in future he’d consider his actions.
The driver is perhaps fortunate that the attempt to record his registration and extended idling failed and that this time, he effectively got away with it. However, I hope that him being challenged on his actions makes him think. It takes next to no time to switch an engine off when it is not needed and there can be no excuse for the bone-idleness, arrogance and self-entitlement of drivers who refuse to do so. Idling vehicles are a significant cause of local pollution particularly during rush hours, and whilst this occasion was on a quiet Sunday, my bet would be this driver habitually idles his engine and this behaviour needs to stop.
So, to all drivers who don’t currently take seriously their responsibilities around minimising the pollutant impact of their transportation, please think of what you are doing to the environment and individual health – not just your own, which is equally as affected, but that of everyone around you. And if you’re selfish enough that you don’t care, then just consider the law, as clarified in the Highway Code:
The Driver and the Environment. 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. Generally, if the vehicle is stationary and is likely to remain so for more than a couple of minutes, you should apply the parking brake and switch off the engine to reduce emissions and noise pollution. However it is permissible to leave the engine running if the vehicle is stationary in traffic or for diagnosing faults.Highway Code, Rule 123
Of course, the other offence which occurred here which is covered by the above rule but didn’t come up in the conversation was the driver leaving the vehicle unattended whilst the engine was running. The law is clear that bar some exceptions which don’t apply in this case, leaving an operational vehicle unattended is not permitted. Again, this shows either a lack of knowledge on the driver’s part about the Highway Code and his responsibilities to the safe use of a motor vehicle, or that he simply does not care or is rather blasé about it.
Unfortunately, whilst engine idling of this sort is an offence, it looks like enforcement is difficult at the moment and my report may well not have gone anywhere had I made it (not that it would have stopped me from trying) – it seems the offence may need to be witnessed by an ‘authorised person’ on behalf of the local authority which enforces the law. The penalty is also only a £20 Fixed Penalty Notice. In my opinion, this is too low and too restrictive. Instead, the law should permit any person with good quality evidence of idling occurring (i.e., video footage) to report the offence, with a minimum fine of £100 per occurrence – perhaps including a multiplier so that drivers of higher polluting vehicles have to pay more.