Individual Drivers Make A Big Impact
Maggie Striz-Calnin, Clean Cities Coordinator
27 May 2010
Greater Lansing Area Clean Cities connects our members and friends with information, opportunities, and funding to implement clean transportation solutions in mid-Michigan. While large vehicle fleet efforts have a larger impact on reducing petroleum consumption, individual drivers like you and I play an important role, too.

What is engine idling? Engine idling is simply the act of running a vehicle’s engine when the vehicle is not in motion, but parked in one place. Limiting idle time saves fuel, engine wear, and money while reducing emissions and noise. Idle reduction options typically refer to technologies and practices that reduce the amount of time vehicles idle their engines.

Why should everyday drivers stop idling? Your idling puts wear on your vehicle, wastes fuel and money, pollutes the air, and exposes those around your idling vehicle to toxic exhaust. The everyday driver can save $134 per year just by reducing idling 5 minutes each day!

How much petroleum can be saved if I stop idling? Everyday drivers across the country waste an estimated 3.8 million gallons of gasoline per day from unnecessary idling. That’s 1.4 billion gallons per year. Consider it this way – some estimates put the current Deepwater Horizon oil spill as wasting 80,000 barrels of oil per day or 3.36 million gallons – Americans’ engine idling is more egregious than the current gulf oil disaster.

How does my idling impact my family’s health? When you idle you emit ground level pollution that includes cancer causing toxins like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.  According to the American Lung Association, “Nitrogen oxides are smog formers and can increase the risk of respiratory infection in children and permanent lung disease.” Check out the US EPA’s Household Emissions Calculator to see how much you’re emitting through your vehicle habits.

How does my idling impact my car’s health? Idling does not allow the vehicle to reach or stay at peak operating temperature, which can impact how effective emissions controls, like catalytic converters, work to reduce toxins in exhaust. Manufacturers recommend warming the engine for not more than ten seconds (or 30 in cold weather) before driving the vehicle. Excessive idling can damage engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems.

Success Stories

Just a little outside our neck of the woods, this spring, the City of Detroit passed an Idle Reduction Ordinance. Citizens groups, including East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) were a major force in encouraging this move. While the details are just being worked out, this is a great reminder that individuals can stop their own idling and encourage bigger impact actions, like a well-enforced local ordinance to limit unnecessary idling.

Do you have an idle reduction success story?


Being a part of the idle reduction solution is easy! Here’s what you can do to make idling reduction a habit:

How often do you find yourself idling and for how long a time? Is it when you’re waiting for your kids outside of school or after events? Do you use the drive-thru option when you could park and go into a business? Do you keep your engine running when stopped at a long train crossing?Noticing when you’re idling is the first step to quitting.

Connect the Dots: The amount of time you idle and where you’re doing it can have direct impacts on your budget and the air your family, friends, and community members are breathing.

Act: You’ve noticed when you idle, you’ve considered the budget and health impacts, now it’s time to put that knowledge into action. Just stop idling! As you kick the habit talk to you family, friends, and community members about quitting idling, too.


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