Idle Thoughts

For many truckers, idling is a way of life. They do it to keep warm, stay cool, run appliances and ensure their trucks will start on frigid mornings. But a practice that for many is as second nature as brushing their teeth is now in many areas illegal and potentially costly.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that truck idling consumes about 960 million gallons of diesel fuel annually, while emitting unacceptable levels of pollutants into the air. To fight back, local and state governments are cracking down on idling, especially in highly populated areas. Fines start at around $100 and can run as high as $25,000.

Some truckers view this stepped-up enforcement as another indication that the federal government is over-involved in their business. They see idling as a God-given right, not to mention a necessary creature comfort.

Others, such as independent owner-operator Henry Albert, see tougher fines as a necessary evil brought on by truckers’ inability to police themselves. “When you have a night where it’s between 55 degrees and 75 degrees and most of the trucks are idling – that’s why we end up with it,” the Mooresville, N.C., resident says.

Even truckers who see the benefits of limiting idling – a quieter, cleaner atmosphere at truck stops and docks, lower fuel consumption and reduced engine wear and tear – have a tough time avoiding the practice. Many depend on idling to stay comfortable in their sleepers – no matter what the temperature. They point out that at $5,000 or more, the cost of onboard idling alternatives can be prohibitive. At the same time, availability of other alternatives, such as shore power, is limited at best.

Albert, who says he has probably only idled three or four times in the past nine years, has his own method for avoiding idling. During cold weather, he sleeps in a sleeping bag placed on an electric blanket that plugs into his cigarette lighter; in the summer, he uses a 12-volt fan that fits in his side windows.

Albert says he sleeps better without the rumble of a diesel engine in his ear and saves a bundle on fuel. While his tactics aren’t for the faint of heart, Albert believes they make him a better-rested, safer trucker with a sound bottom line.

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If you haven’t yet given serious thought to your anti-idling strategy, now is the time. There are currently at least 25 local and state jurisdictions with active anti-idling laws. More will be on the way unless the industry takes matters into its own hands.

“If everybody only did it when it was necessary we probably wouldn’t be having this debate,” Albert says. “If we can’t do it on our own, they’re going to do it for us.”