Too many motorists leave their engines idling when their vehicle is stopped, causing to air pollution. When will this become socially unacceptable, asks Alastair Dalton
There appear to be a lot of getaway drivers about.
I keep passing people sitting in vehicles with their engines idling – and they don’t otherwise look shifty or are in Range Rovers with darkened windows outside banks.
Yesterday, the miscreant motorists spotted on my commute in Glasgow, all parked near houses, included supermarket delivery vans, pick-up trucks and a bin lorry.
Being a driver can make you lazy and selfish, cocooned within a metal-and-glass shell that provides the illusion of being in a private space where you can do as you like.
By contrast, walkers, cyclists and those using buses and trains have much more awareness, regard and courtesy to fellow travellers.
Keeping your engine running when parked is needless, especially when it’s no longer cold outside. It’s also worth noting that pollution levels are forecast to rise across parts of the Central Belt on Monday to “moderate” levels for about the first time this year.
City councils have made attempts to crack down on the scourge, but it’s clearly still not seen as socially unacceptable.
Protest group Extinction Rebellion has been bringing traffic to a halt this week in the latest round of its action to demand governments “act now on the climate and ecological emergency”.
But they would do far better targeting the sharp end of the pollution crisis – those directly causing it, like idling vehicle engines. The message should be about the personal responsibility of each one of us to the planet, rather than lumbering it all on politicians.
That could also go for all sorts of other behaviour, such as using our cars less, not dropping litter and other simple actions like correctly using recycling bins rather than shoving waste into the wrong ones. How hard can that be?
But for those incapable of being responsible, technological solutions will be needed. Many new cars’ engines automatically cut out when the vehicle stops. That should become mandatory on all new models.
The fact that the rise in fuel prices appears to have failed to end idling suggests that for those drivers, it’s still too cheap.
The AA highlighted this week that petrol prices have reached their highest level for five years, but for some, that does not seem to be high enough.
The electronics built into vehicle engines are now so sophisticated they can provide detailed diagnostics about performance, so that should include idling.
A new generation of smart fuel pumps should be developed which checks that data to see how much a vehicle has been left idling, and charges a higher price accordingly.
Restrictions on engines have been imposed on buses entering Glasgow city centre since the launch of Scotland’s first low emission zone at the beginning of the year.
These will become progressively tighter until only those with the cleanest engines are permitted, and the same will go for cars and other vehicles. Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are due to follow suit with their own zones by the end of next year.
But the wilful misuse of vehicles by letting them idle is just as important.
In New York, a famed “verdant vigilante” has been persuading the drivers of celebrity-carrying stretch limos to switch off their idling engines, which has been copied in Scottish cities such as Glasgow. But it shouldn’t be necessary. Drivers must simply get out of the habit.