Engine Idling Law UK - Penalties for Leaving your Engine Running When Parked!

Engine Idling Law UK - Penalties for Leaving your Engine Running When Parked!

Let’s be honest, we have all been guilty of leaving our car engines idling when stationary, whether that’s during traffic jams, outside of school zones or when waiting to pick up friends, etc. However, those days may soon be gone with the government set to introduce a new policy on idling cars.

New engine idling laws and fines to come?

Drivers who constantly leave their engines running while parked could be issued with instant fines under the government's plan to help tackle air pollution. Michael Grove, the Environment Secretary, said he is supporting calls from Westminster Council’s to introduce stronger measures to stop idling cars, which can supposedly cause more air pollution than when a car is moving.

Leaving an engine idling is already an offence under the Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The Act enforces rule 123 of the Highway Code, which states:

“You MUST NOT leave a vehicles engine running unnecessarily while the vehicle is stationary on a public road.”

To be specific, Section 98 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986/1078 requires a driver to stop the engine of a vehicle when it is stationary so far as is necessary to prevent noise or exhaust emissions, unless the vehicle is stationary because of traffic. Section 107 of the same regulations prohibits a person from leaving a vehicle unattended unless the engine is stopped.

If drivers are breach for reasons outside those stated above, is is consideredan offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which can be punished by a fine of £2,500 if the vehicle is a goods vehicle or adapted to carry more than 8 passengers, or £1,000 otherwise (see Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 section 33 and Part I of Schedule 2 to that act).

In addition, local authorities can apply for the right to issue fixed penalties for breach of those regulations under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002/1808. Under regulation 8, the amount of such a fixed penalty is £20. In addition under regulation 12, an authorised person who believes that a driver of a vehicle is idling while stationary may require them to stop the engine. If they fail to do so, they may be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to £1,000.

Currently officers are only permitted to impose such a fine if drivers fail to turn off their emission and stay parked for another minute. Since 2017, Westminster Council has issued a total of just 37 fines; hence why tougher rules may come into play following the government’s meetings with local councils. Nickie Aiken, Leader of Westminster City Council, said she wants local authorities to impose these fines on drivers who continue to leave their engines running, particularly companies.

It can all seem quite confusing so the The Department for Transport issued guidance on powers to require drivers to switch off engines (2002) under section 88 of the Environment Act 1995. This recommends that guidance should generally be advisory and that fixed penalty notices should not need to be issued. However, the guidance also makes clear at section 1.3.1 that failure to follow it will not negate any fixed penalty notice issued under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emission) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2001.

"Fines are our last resort but when we establish a pattern of persistent idling we need to be able to send a message ...

... It’s needless contribution to air pollution in our city and an issue that every driver can play their part to help stop."

She added that fines for company vehicles need to be a “four-figure sum” to be a sufficient deterrent. According to the Westminster City Council, an idling car produces enough emissions to fill 150 balloons a minute. Furthermore, they said that buses, taxis, vans, cars and delivery vehicles produce more than half of the deadliest emissions in the air.

“We are determined to reduce the damaging environmental impacts of drivers who keep their engines running while stationary, especially those in school zones ...

... This is why we are making guidance for local authorities clearer, so that they know how and when to target drivers falling foul of the law. We will also be polling local authorities to understand how any potential review of these powers may look in future.”- A spokesperson from the Department for Transport (DfT)

Ourguide tells you everything you need to know about engine idling, why it’s bad, and advice on how to stop engine idling as well as myths surrounding stop-start systems.

What is engine idling?

Put simply, Idling refers to running a car's engine when the car is not moving. This usually occurs when drivers come to a halt at a red light, outside school zones or waiting while parked outside a business or residence, when idling is not needed and should be avoided.

Why is engine idling bad?

Engine idling increases the amount of exhaust fumes emitted in the air and affects the environment and people’s health. Car exhaust fumes contain certain poisonous gasses, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrocarbons which are extremely toxic to the human body and can sometimes be fatal if inhaled too much. They also contain carbon dioxide which is bad for the environment and contributes towards climate change.

Advice to stop engine idling

Here are our top 3 tips for motorists to switch off their engines when stuck in traffic;

  • Evaluate how long you might be stationary when in traffic. If you think that you’ll be stationary for longer than 2 minutes, then we advise you turn off your engine.
  • Stop-start systems. Many modern cars come equipped with stop-start systems which automatically turn off the engine when the vehicle comes to a standstill position and turns it back on once the accelerator is pressed. This feature can be manually overridden, but we highly recommend that motorists DO NOT disable this feature as it's more eco-friendly!
  • Do not turn your engine on and off. Drivers without a stop-start system should try to always turn off their engine when stationary, but also should also try to keep in mind that doing this repeatedly in a short period of time is not good for the vehicle.

Myths surrounding stop-start systems

  • Saves the planet. Stop-start systems helps bring down fuel economy and significantly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide discharging into the air. It was claimed by the AA (British Motoring Association) in a recent study that these systems are able to provide 5-7% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Battery never dies. Stop-start systems will automatically restart the engine of your vehicle to ensure battery life is fully charged, even when stuck in traffic.
  • Quiet and peaceful. Another benefit of stop-start systems, is that they are quieter and can make your journey more relaxing because you don’t have to deal with the noise of an idling engine, especially sitting in stop-and-go traffic.

Read more: Stop/Start Technology - Will it save me money?

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Article updated Wednesday 13th November 2019

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