Vehicle Idling

Idling is leaving a vehicle's engine running while it is stationary

If you have to use your vehicle, instead of active travel alternatives, you should switch off your engine if your vehicle is stationary for more than one minute. This will help improve air quality and will lower the risk to your health.

The law says a motorist must not leave a parked vehicle unattended with the engine running or leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while the vehicle is stationary on a public road (Rule 123 of The Highway Code)

A motorist can receive a fine if they refuse to switch off their engine when asked to do so by an authorised officer.

Common locations where idling can happen include:  

  • Waiting at traffic lights
  • Whilst stuck in traffic
  • Waiting at level crossings
  • Waiting on roads around schools
  • In car parks
  • Waiting at fast food outlets
  • Taxi ranks
  • Bus stops

Idling can harm your health

Vehicle emissions contribute to poor air quality, which is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK.

Idling vehicles create harmful emissions and this can contribute to many health issues, including asthma, lung disease, heart attacks and cancer.

Car drivers and passengers can be exposed to twice as much air pollution as pedestrians and nine times more than a cyclist.

People who are most vulnerable to air pollution include:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • People with existing health conditions

Things you may not know about idling

  • A car idling for 1 minute can fill up to 150 balloons with harmful exhaust emissions.
  • An idling engine burns fuel less efficiently and can produce up to twice as many exhaust emissions as an engine in motion.
  • Idling for an hour can waste 2.3 Litres or more of fuel. Between 5% and 8% of fuel use occurs while idling.
  • Turning off an engine and then restarting after a minute will cause less pollution than leaving it running.

Be Air Aware

We are taking action to tackle idling in Cornwall by educating residents as part of the #BeAirAware campaign, which was launched in March 2022.

The campaign aims to change the behaviour of motorists through:

  • Regular town and school patrols by air quality officers and parking officers to give advice to bus drivers, taxis drivers and residents on vehicle idling.
  • Teaching primary and secondary school children about air quality in Cornwall and how they can take steps to improve local air quality.
  • Giving parking officers the training they need to give information on vehicle idling to motorists whilst on their parking patrols.
  • Displaying “Engine off” signage at level crossings and train station car parks.
  • Displaying digital messages on road signs in major towns advising motorists on the health impacts of poor air quality and to switch off their vehicles when stationary.
  • Co-designing anti-idling and active travel banners with schools to remind parents and school staff to switch off their engines.
  • Engaging with local climate action groups to better understand local air quality problems.

Improving Cornwall’s air quality

We can all take steps to improve air quality in Cornwall, even the small steps can make a big difference:

  • Choosing active travel alternatives (walking, cycling, scooting) rather than driving to work or school.
  • Use public transport more often. Find out about Cornwall’s low bus fare pilot which has made bus travel in Cornwall more affordable.
  • If you have a wood burner/ fireplace at home, ensure any packaged wood that you purchase displays the Ready to Burn
  • Avoid having bonfires to burn garden waste
  • Consider joining a car club if you live in Truro or Falmouth

Report a smoky lorry or bus

Report an excessively smoky lorry or bus exhaust to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

More information on idling

View our vehicle idling infographic

Email if you would like to receive further information on idling or you have concerns about vehicle idling at a location. 

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