I am really starting to think the government sees we motorists as an easy target for extra income. Our roads are littered with speed cameras at every turn, motorways with variable speed limits, random lane closures and bus lane cameras. And now we have something new to look forward to; fines for idling cars.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for saving the environment and I am fully away that an idling car can allegedly fill 150 balloons every minute, however, it just feels like the motorist is being targeted yet again.
And in fact, it has always been illegal and defined in the highway code where it states: “[drivers] must not leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.” This is also backed up by the Road Traffic Act 1988 where the offence is punishable with a fine of £20, rising to £80 in some circumstances.
However, police officers are currently unable to impose the fine unless the driver has ignored an initial warning and kept the vehicle idling for at least another minute. But local councils are now calling for tougher action.
Westminster Council’s Conservative leader, Nickie Aiken, wants the power to issue fines immediately to repeat offenders.
“Fines are our last resort but when we establish a pattern of persistent idling we need to be able to send a message,” she told The Times.
Westminster City Council carries out far more enforcement than most other authorities but issued only 20 fines last year.
Ms Aikens said fines for company vehicles, such as supermarket delivery vans, caught idling need to be a “four-figure sum” to be a sufficient deterrent.
Environment secretary Michael Gove is supporting the council’s call but stressed that any new powers should be used proportionately by councils.
According to Westminster City Council, an idling car produces enough exhaust emissions to fill 150 balloons a minute.
It has called on the public to report unnecessary engine idling through its website, as the borough suffers from the worst air pollution in the country.
Motoring law solicitor Paul Loughlin, from Stephensons Solicitors LLP, said: “These powers are likely to prove an effective deterrent and will go some way to reducing the pollution levels in our towns and cities, however, it remains unclear how local authorities will enforce them.
“There is an onus on the Government to spell out how these powers will be used as well as making it clear for drivers to turn off their engines while parked.
“The fines, some of which stretching to £1,000 for repeat offenders, will be keenly felt in particular by businesses and couriers, who often leave their vehicles running while making deliveries.”
Up to 18 local authorities in London have been involved in so-called “idling action events”, with drivers approached and asked to switch off their engines when parked with Islington council saying that 80% of drivers switch off if requested in a friendly and non-judgmental manner.
Many local authorities, including the City of London, Camden, Croydon, Reading, Norwich and Canterbury did not issue any fines for idling last year.
Camden Council, which is also calling for instant fines, has warned more than 400 drivers but issued no fines since giving enforcement officers the power to issue fixed penalties in March last year.
A spokesperson for The Department for Transport said: “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 be polling local authorities to understand how any potential review of these powers may look in the future.”
So will this be rolled by councils across the country? If it adds to the authorities’ coffers then you bet.