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Penalties are Few for Idling Diesel Engines

December 21, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — Exhaust from diesel trucks and buses is so unhealthy – it has been linked to heart attacks, cancer, and breathing problems – that 21 state, county, and city governments have restricted how long engines may be left idling, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 10. The problem is, most of them do almost nothing to enforce the rules. An Inquirer survey found that 13 of the 21 agencies issued 10 or fewer citations for the most recent year of data available, in most cases 2003. Eight wrote no tickets at all. Philadelphia has issued 17 $300 tickets so far this year, after years of little or no enforcement. Four areas – New York City, New York state, New Jersey, and Washington – accounted for 685 citations. The total for all 21 agencies was 713. Most of the agencies limit engine idling to between two and 15 minutes. Some allow longer periods in cold weather. But in reality, engines often are left running for hours. Many regulators say they don´t have the staff to crack down on the problem, except to respond to specific complaints. By the time an inspector shows up, the driver may be long gone. Regulators in some states, such as Massachusetts and Nevada, say they concentrate instead on driver-education campaigns. In Philadelphia, idling laws are enforced by Air Management Services in the city´s Department of Public Health. Division director Morris Fine said another factor complicating enforcement is that it is hard to ask long-haul truck drivers to stop idling because the engines supply heat, air-conditioning, and electricity to the cab. "The truck drivers essentially live out of their vehicles," Fine said. The EPA is expected to announce soon which parts of the country have unhealthy levels of fine particles in the air – a form of pollution of which diesel exhaust is a key component. In interviews with 10 truck and bus drivers parked in Philadelphia last month, just one – a school-bus driver from Maryland – said he knew the city had an anti-idling rule. The rest had no idea, though some were aware of crackdowns in New Jersey and New York City, which gave out 339 tickets last year. Trucking industry officials say idling limits are impractical. In addition to supplying heat and air-conditioning, certain engines must be kept running because they´re tough to restart in cold weather, said Bill Gouse, vice president of engineering at the American Trucking Associations. Agency officials could not say how much of diesel pollution comes from idling as opposed to regular driving. But air-quality experts say pollution from idling is a sensible target because it´s avoidable. Shutting off engines also saves fuel. In another analysis, the EPA calculated that truck idling uses anywhere from 600 million to one billion gallons of diesel fuel a year. One new approach is to make truck depots responsible for pollution, in addition to the truck owners and drivers themselves. Last year, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced an agreement with one of the nation´s largest produce terminals, Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, to help enforce the city´s three-minute idling limit. This year in New Jersey, Wawa stores posted warnings about the state´s idling limits, after the Department of Environmental Protection announced that both vehicles and commercial locations would be held responsible. More common is the case of Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes the fast-growing city of Phoenix. The county began an anti-idling program last year but state funding was cut in June this year, said Larry Spivack, county air-quality compliance manager. The county had started an education campaign and was "putting together little brochures," he said. "That´s all we ever got to, actually," Spivack added. "It could have had a pretty terrific impact." The EPA has required engine-makers to start building new, cleaner-burning diesel engines in 2007. But older trucks and buses will remain on the road for years.
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