Don’t be an engine idling polluter

One of the issues that members of the Strand on the Green residents association (SOGA) will be raising with councillors and candidates is the issue of engine idling – running your engine while your car is stationary. It’s something which people do without necessarily being aware of the damage they’re doing to air quality and the impact that has especially on children, so SOGA want London borough councils to raise awareness.

Alan McBride, who writes the Strand On the Green residents’ newsletter, says: ‘We have noticed that more and more motorists are leaving their vehicle’s engine running whilst the vehicle is stationary. Sometimes drivers leave their vehicle’s engine running for a few minutes whilst they “pop to the shop” and sometimes drivers sit in their vehicles with the engine running for long periods in order to keep warm. More and more frequently it is becoming the norm to sit in a vehicle with the engine running whilst the driver programs the “sat nav” or checks his or her social media account’. SOGA has written to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and local MP Ruth Cadbury to ask their help with mounting a campaign against engine idling.

Ruth Cadbury replied: “I believe that the air pollution crisis is a national scandal, and that urgent action must be taken. Air pollution is linked to cancer, asthma, strokes and heart disease and in the UK, contributes to the early deaths of up to 50,000 people a year. Stationary idling is an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.” Leaving your engine running while stationary can incur a £20 fixed-penalty fine, but the problem of course is enforcement. “I applaud the anti-idling campaign days that Westminster City Council successfully introduced, reducing harmful emissions through prompting a simple behavioural change with £80 fines for drivers caught with idling engines. I also support calls for no-idling zones to be made compulsory outside schools, hospitals and care homes”.

There is a London-wide campaign which mobilises volunteers to talk to drivers to persuade them out of their antisocial habit. ‘Our approach is to invite drivers to join our campaign and switch off their engines when parked. When approached in a friendly and non-judgemental way, we find that over 80% of drivers switch off when asked by our volunteers, and many pledge to give up the idling habit for good’.

That’s a pretty high success rate. The actor Nigel Havers has a bee in his bonnet about engine idling and makes it his business to tap on the window of the offending vehicle and tackle the driver. He told Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: ‘Walking from where I live in South Ken into the west End I passed so many chauffeur driven cars, sitting waiting for their boss with the engine running, taxis with the engine running, white vans, the amount of cars that sit idling, doing nothing by the side of the road was extraordinary and I would tap on the window and say “excuse me, do you mind turning your engine off.” 70 – 80% of people told me to, um, go away very quickly but ten – 15 percent were brilliant and said “I hadn’t thought of that, you’re quite right” and turned the engine off’.

If you are interested in joining a campaign to raise awareness of this issue, you can contact or email locally. It worked with smoking and persuading dog owners to pick up after their pets, so who knows, it may work with engine idling.