The Dangers of Idling

Posted on May 2, 2019

Idling is one of the most widespread yet ignored environmental challenges facing our communities today. The consequences can be immense  on the environment, our families, and our wallets. Parents sit in cars idling while they wait to pick up their children from school, and many trucks and buses idle  for hours on end. Obviously, no one is idling maliciously here. The real problem is a lack of information. It is important to address the very basics of the problem to ensure that more adults recognize how idling can damage our communities. .

At its core, idling is when the engine of a car continues to run while the car is parked. Many new drivers are taught to idle their car in the mornings to warm the engine before heading off to their destination. Contrary to this practice, idling is not as necessary for this as it was once thought to be. Newer cars can easily warm the engine without idling, and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, many vehicle manuals recommend to avoid idling as a way to protect the environment and others. Here’s a general rule of thumb that everyone can follow: if you are waiting for more than ten seconds in your car, you should turn off the engine. Despite the information given, drivers may still idle under the guise that the engine would suffer if it were to be turned off and on. Again, this problem is being minimized thanks to advancements in modern vehicle technology.

The most frequent location for idling cars is usually schools. Parents and guardians arrive many minutes earlier and continue to leave their engines running while waiting for their children. In addition, lines of school buses also seem to be practicing this act prior to taking the students back to their homes. Idling for extended periods of time has some serious effects on the air around us, and due to the frequency of idling around schools, it can prove harmful to the students. There have been instances where constant idling around school grounds has damaged the air because  it is more concentrated towards the school. This practice can lead to health complications for students suffering from conditions such as asthma. The amount of dirty air surrounding the school can prove very dangerous to young student’s lungs and airways, especially with the prevalence in bus drivers idling as they wait for students before the school day ends.

Attempts to minimize the threat of idling are happening every day. One of the most effective ways to garner attention towards the idling crisis is through mediums of storytelling, such as film and documentaries. EcoAction Arlington recently hosted an event that showed guests the 2012 movie “Idle Threat.” The film follows George Pakenham and his attempts to confront several thousands of New Yorkers that are seemingly unaware of the repercussions of idling, both environmental and financial. Events like these can generate leagues of discussion among viewers who are aware and want to be informed. In the film, there are instances where the people Pakenham finds in New York City are shocked to discover that there can be fines for idling. More are taken by surprise when they find out about the health effects and dangers. Movements like Pakenham’s form the foundation for change in communities.

Another way of preventing idling in your community is to address the issue through more direct methods. EcoAction Arlington, in addition to showing “Idle Threat,” began giving mini-grants to students in Arlington schools that had projects focused on improving the air quality around their institutions. There were various students who got mini-grants to help fund their projects. In particular, one student at Gunston Middle School created a plan to put signs around the school that informed drivers of idling. The sign will feature a catchy slogan to make it stand out that will be placed in specific areas where drivers idle the most, like near the parking lot of the school.

Increased awareness and engagement with the community are some of the best ways to reduce idling. Whether it be a film, a project, a community discussion, or volunteering, there are many ways in which Arlingtonians can combat the threat. EcoAction Arlington fully and wholeheartedly encourages support from community members to engage and stop the idling threat. As a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing and protecting our environment, including improving air quality, we are eager to hear about any Arlingtonians who make an effort to improve air quality around their communities.


This article was written by EcoAction Arlington’s Urban Alliance intern, Bryant Rocha. Bryant is a senior at Washington-Lee High School.