Idle Now, Pay Later

Sgt. Edwin Ramos, who enforces idling restrictions at New York City’s Hunts Point, talks with a trucker.

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection made a 20-county idling sweep in August and found 101 trucks in violation of the state’s three-minute idling limit.

“All 101 drivers will be fined $200 for the first violation,” says department spokeswoman Erin Phalon. If they idle over three minutes again, the next fine will be $400, she says. The state will impose $1,000 and $3,000 fines on drivers for third and fourth violations.

It’s not just New Jersey. At least 25 other state and local jurisdictions have active no-idling laws, enforcement is more likely than ever, and similar laws are under consideration in other areas with air quality issues. Most enforcement starts with a warning, but penalties can reach $25,000 and include a year in jail.

“Tickets are written on a pretty much infrequent basis,” says Todd Spencer, vice president of the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association. “Most of those we’ve heard about are coming from places like Manhattan or New York.”

“All these laws do is incrementally strip us of our freedom,” says owner-operator Joe Rajkovacz of Wisconsin, who believes no-idling enforcement will soon be widespread. “There are already a lot of areas with these laws.”

Despite the potential fines, some drivers appreciate the results of no-idle enforcement, including reduced noise. “I like sleeping where it’s quiet,” says Styline Transport driver Timothy Begle of Dale, Ind.

New York City’s Hunts Point Cooperative Market, the world’s largest food distribution center, uses private security to enforce the state’s five-minute idling limit.

“We have thousands of trucks coming through here every day,” says Hunts Point General Manager Bruce Reingold. “Initially we had quite a few violations, but now we’re down to a couple a week.”

Reingold says security officers patrol regularly and warn idling drivers to shut down. Most do, but the others get written up as violators. “It’s about $300 for the first violation, but the fines can go to $10,000 or $15,000” for multiple violations, Reingold says.

In at least one New York rest area, truckers received tickets for “idling” their auxiliary power units. “But as soon as the proper New York authorities found out, they put a stop to it,” says Rex Greer, owner of APU manufacturer Pony Pack.

In Connecticut, the first enforcement step is notifying the vehicle’s owner, who must then assure state officials that idling violations will stop, says Patrick Bowe of Connecticut’s Bureau of Air Management.

“The next level of enforcement would be a consent order,” Bowe says. “These have a time constraint and a penalty.” The state negotiates settlements and fines, which can reach $25,000 in the case of companies with extreme violations, he says.

“If we went out to a single owner-operator and gave him a notice of violation, and then we had to give him another, then we’d have to make a decision of whether we’d want to charge a penalty,” Bowe says.

St. Louis has a no-idling law but no truck stops. “All the truck stops are in the county or the surrounding metropolitan area, so we don’t usually have the idling issue,” says Mark Ritter, who manages the city’s Air Pollution Control Division. The city does have trucking companies, and some drivers idle at customers’ locations, he says.

“Due to some local issues and a national push from the EPA, our law will be enforced more than it has been in the past,” Ritter says. “Basically, if you’re idling for more than 10 minutes, you’re going to have to shut it down.”

Massachusetts has increased enforcement of its 31-year-old law limiting idling to five minutes except during tasks such as pre-trip inspections, says Ed Coletta, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. “If it’s state or local law enforcement, the driver is ticketed, and it’s $100 for the first violation and $500 for subsequent violations,” Coletta says.

If a DEP official discovers the violation, the owner will be contacted through the mail, and DEP can fine owners between $1,000 and $25,000 a day, Coletta says, though fines are not always issued.

Because the regulation is part of the federally mandated State Implementation Plan, it is also enforceable by EPA. “EPA does probably more enforcement on this than we might, and they have more jurisdiction and higher fines,” Coletta says. In August, EPA fined Material Installations, a furniture delivery company in North Andover, Mass., $109,120. EPA says between August 2003 and March 2004, MI’s trucks illegally idled on-site for close to 1,000 total minutes.

Such involvement by EPA is not common, says Suzanne Rudzinski, transportation and regional programs chief in EPA’s Air and Radiation Office. “If there are local laws, they are locally enforceable,” she says. “The EPA is not going to be out at truck stops enforcing laws.”

Instead, EPA is encouraging idling-alternative technology and “trying to establish idle-free corridors around the country,” Rudzinski says.

EPA also identifies “non-attainment” areas – air pollution hot spots, some with hundreds of idling big rigs, where local authorities have not attained clean air standards. In these areas, officials believe no-idling enforcement will clear the air and save fuel. When such areas meet EPA standards, they earn federal highway funds.

“The focus of these laws, when you look at the enforcement angle and the fines, is all about revenue,” says Rajkovacz.

“I don’t necessarily anticipate increased enforcement during the cooler months,” Spencer says. “But I won’t be surprised to see enforcement stepped up again during the warmer months when air pollution becomes a bigger issue for municipal areas that already have air quality problems.”

Spencer says OOIDA “will be pursuing some of these tickets to challenge their legality. But the broader issue is that a solution is not readily apparent.”

Regulations and enforcement aside, the free market is increasingly having its own impact on idling. “With fuel at $2 a gallon now,” says owner-operator Rajkovacz, “not idling is very smart from an economic standpoint.”

How much no-idle laws contribute to cleaner air depends on which statistics you look at. “Most of the laws are passed for a specific metropolitan area,” says Todd Spencer, vice president of the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association.

“A lot of the air quality programs are local, so to understand the benefits you have to look at the local problem,” says Suzanne Rudzinski of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “In some areas it’s going to be more important than others.”

In certain neighborhoods, exhaust from idling big trucks is a significant pollution source, says Linda Gaines, U.S. Department of Energy analyst. But if you look at the total pollution from truck stops “on a global scale, it’s not much,” she says.

Gaines adds there’s no “silver bullet” to decrease global air pollution. “Idle reduction is the low-hanging fruit,” she says.

EPA studies show that only 10 percent of particulate pollution comes from on-road diesel engines. In typical U.S. cities, 95 percent of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon pollution comes from gasoline vehicles, the EPA says.

More alarming statistics about diesel exhaust come from a 1998-99 study of the Los Angeles area by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. It claims diesel exhaust causes “70 percent of the total cancer risk from air pollution.”

The 70 percent figure describes diesel exhaust’s contribution of “toxic risk,” not its share of pollution, says Gennet Paauwe, spokeswoman for the California Air Resources Board.

Most of the nation’s 230 million non-commercial vehicles get off scot-free when it comes to idling restrictions.

Take California, home to some of the nation’s most aggressive clean-air legislation, including a five-minute big-truck idling limit. While California’s 30 million gasoline-powered vehicles must pass emission tests, they can still legally idle as long as they want, says Gennet Paauwe, CARB. spokeswoman.

“People depend on their cars, and they would think it was Big Brother if we passed laws restricting their driving,” she says.

Some anti-idling laws are not limited to diesel engines, though enforcement almost always ignores four-wheelers.

Massachusetts’ no-idling law doesn’t include cars. “There isn’t anything that limits the amount of driving or idling that cars do, but we have 3.4 million cars that get emissions tests from the state every year,” says Ed Coletta, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

The same is true in New Jersey. “These laws apply to diesel-powered vehicles only,” says Erin Phalon, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman. Gasoline-powered vehicles were not included in a recent statewide initiative to enforce no-idling laws.

Connecticut’s no-idling enforcement is an exception. “This is applicable to cars as well as trucks, and it doesn’t have to be a diesel engine,” says Patrick Bowe of Connecticut’s Bureau of Air Management. “Basically anything that moves with an internal combustion engine.”


1 Arizona (Maricopa County) 5 minutes; 60-90 minutes when hotter than 75 degrees First violation, $100; second and subsequent violation, $200
2 Atlanta 15 minutes $500 minimum
3 California 5 minutes $100 minimum
4 Connecticut 3 minutes Up to $25,000
5 Denver 10 minutes per hour $999 maximum and/or one year imprisonment
6 Hawaii 3 minutes $25 to $2,500 per day
7 Illinois Driver must be present if idling $500 maximum
8 Las Vegas/Clark County 15 minutes $10,000 maximum
9 Maryland 5 minutes $500 maximum
10 Massachusetts 5 minutes Police: first violation, $100; second and subsequent violation, $500. State DEP: $1,000 to $25,000 per day
11 Minnesota (City of Owatonna) 15 minutes; five hours in residential areas $1,000 maximum and/or 90 days imprisonment
12 Minnesota (City of St. Cloud) 5 minutes on West St. Germain Street from 8th to 10th avenues $200 maximum
13 Nevada 15 minutes First violation, $100 to $500; second violation, $500 to $1,000; third violation, $1,000 to $1,500; fourth violation within three years, $1,500 to $2,500
14 New Hampshire 5 minutes if over 32 degrees; 15 minutes if below 32 degrees To be determined
15 New Jersey 3 minutes First violation, $200; second violation, $400; third violation, $1,000; fourth violation, $3,000
16 New York State 5 minutes First violation, $375 to $15,000; second and subsequent violations, $22,500 maximum
17 New York City 3 minutes First violation, $50 to $500 and/or 20 days imprisonment; second violation, $100 to $1,000 and/or 30 days imprisonment; third and subsequent violations, $400 to $5,000 and/or four months imprisonment
18 Philadelphia 2 minutes $300
19 Reno/Washoe County 15 minutes First violation, $250 maximum; second and subsequent violations, $200 to $500
20 Salt Lake City/County 15 minutes First violation, $1,000 and/or six months imprisonment maximum; second and subsequent violations, $2,500 and one year imprisonment
21 St. Louis 10 minutes Up to $500 and/or 90 days imprisonment
22 Texas (Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties) 5 minutes, April to October To be determined
23 Utah Driver must be present if idling $750 and/or 90 days imprisonment
24 Virginia 10 minutes in commercial and residential areas $25,000 maximum
25 Washington D.C. 3 minutes; 5 minutes if below 32 degrees $500; doubles for each subsequent violation

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