Vehicle idling restrictions

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Vehicle idling restrictions, also known as anti-idling laws or idle reduction laws, are policies that restrict the use of vehicle engines for periods of time when drive trains are not engaged, or when they are ‘idling.’ Automobiles, trucks, and buses are typically idled to power auxiliary functions like air conditioning, radios, lighting, and other accessory equipment.

Anti-idling policies are typically aimed to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency, while having the side effect of prolonging engine life, component longevity, improving public health, and increasing quality of life. Customarily, the policies limit the amount of time that vehicles may remain idle and is enforced by tickets, fines, or potential jail time for vehicle operators. Jurisdictions take a variety of approaches to length of time allowed, punishments for infringement, or exemptions to the policy, but typically are targeted at private vehicles like automobiles, trucks, and private buses and coaches; publicly owned vehicles (as in emergency vehicles) are usually exempt from restrictions.



Conceptual Example

A government body representing a specific geographic region, a city for example, has a high rate of asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease rates among its constituents, especially the young and the elderly. The city government has a goal to reduce those rates, but with a cost-effective policy strategy that may have other incidental benefits. To accomplish those goals, the city implements a law restricting all vehicles from idling at any time while not immediately waiting in traffic. A fine shall be imposed on any violators and a potential jail time length is set in order to give the law more "teeth." Exemptions are put in place for emergency vehicles, idling for the purposes of repair, or for other specific reasons where idling is required for safety or preservation of goods. The local police department is charged with enforcing the no-idling law. Eventually, health rates increase due to a reduction of airborne pollutants and traffic noise is reduced on streets, while fuel consumption decreases and vehicle components last marginally longer.

Specific Example

In October 2016, after many years of on and off again talks of creating a city ordinance regulating vehicle idling, the City Council of Ann Arbor, Michigan voted to enact that ordinance that allowed for fines of at least $100 for infractions[1]. Citing health issues, the City Council stated how “airborne pollutants from engine emissions cause or aggravate pulmonary diseases, including asthma, lung cancer, bronchitis, acute respiratory infections, and emphysema” as reasons for enacting the law. Furthermore, it was noted that “idling engines also impose economic costs, including wasted energy, consumption of non-renewable resources, and business and personal expenses for medical care and loss of productivity due to pollution-related illness[1].”

Though the law does not go in to effect until July 2017, the city will undertake a public outreach effort to educate the public about the ordinance and about problems with vehicle idling in general. The ordinance, whose scope was reduced from earlier efforts to pass the law, will designate No-Idling Zones which limit idling for all vehicles and will limit idling for commercial vehicles city wide. Exemptions were made for certain circumstances, vehicle types, and actions performed in or on vehicles (such as defrosting or repair)[2].



Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. Truck Driver sleep quality and comfort could be reduced if heating and air conditioning systems are harder to utilize.
  2. Police Departments may lose efficiency while enforcing idling laws, reducing manpower available to police and investigate other criminal activities.
  3. No-idling zones may concentrate idling vehicles where it is allowed.
  4. Reduced employment in vehicle service industries if retrofits are prohibitively expensive or driver comfort cannot be guaranteed.
  5. Reducing vehicle idling does not incentivize moving away from fossil-fuel burning vehicles, just incentivizes using them less.
Compatibility Assessment

Compatibility Assessment.png

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Are there high rates of respiratory-related health issues, or could rates be lowered?
  2. Are there acute areas of high numbers of idling vehicles?
  3. Are loading zones and fire lanes frequently unusable due to idling vehicles?
  4. Is climate change recognized as a serious issue that needs to be resolved?
  5. Would reducing idling times contribute to higher fuel efficiency for constituents?
  6. Are there resources available for police departments to enforce anti-idling laws?


Assuming that a jurisdiction has decided to adopt the policy, the following questions will need to be answered when determining how to implement this policy:

  1. Will vehicle idling restrictions be area-wide or limited in geographic zones?
    1. Anti-Idling Zones can concentrate reductions in noise and/or pollution levels in areas with high traffic and/or health vulnerabilities, such as school zones, central business districts, or residential districts.
  2. What types of vehicles will be targeted by this law?
    1. Restrictions can be limited to commercial trucks, private passenger vehicles, buses, and even railroad equipment. Restrictions are largely in place for private commercial and personal vehicles.
  3. What will the time limit and time frame for idling be set at?
    1. Restrictions can vary from zero tolerance, to 3 minutes total, to longer ranges up to an hour, and even to more complicated times such as 5 minutes in a 60-minute period.
    2. Restrictions can be limited by time of day; for example, idling can be allowed during the day but not at night, or allowed at all times but shorter durations permitted at night.
  4. What types of exceptions to the law will be made?
    1. Are law enforcement vehicles, emergency vehicles, or even armored cars for banking subject to the law?.
    2. Are exceptions made for making repairs or warming up vehicles in sub-zero temperatures?
  5. What will punishments be for violators?
    1. High fines may be enforced to persuade people not to idle, but it may affect certain types of drivers more than others.
    2. Will the possibility of jail time be a threat? Typically jail time is not given but the possibility exists as a deterrent.














  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 [1]. Brian Kuang (2016). “City Council passes law restricting idling vehicles at Monday meeting.” Michigan Daily
  2. [2]. City of Ann Arbor (2016). "Idling Reduction Ordinance"
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 [3]. U.S. EPA (2006) Compilation of State, County, and Local Anti-Idling Regulations.
  4. [4]. U.S. Department of Energy IdleBase.
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