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Share the air and save money

Idling your car wastes money and pollutes the air you breathe—so why do people keep doing it?

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Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at ryanvanhorne.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at ryanvanhorne.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

You can’t legislate common sense, but that hasn’t stopped governments from trying.

Take idling your car, for example. It’s vehicular gluttony, and a sad reflection on our lack of common sense.

There is unequivocal science to show that humans cause global warming, yet many continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere without a care.

In North America, car culture is seemingly tattooed on our skin. It’s one thing to say you need to drive to work, get groceries, or get your kids to practice, but how many of us need to idle? It’s almost never necessary but despite the harm to the environment, it continues unabated.

The next time you walk by a grocery store or school, notice how many people are idling, polluting the atmosphere, and ruining the air quality of their immediate surroundings.

It would be so easy for bylaw enforcement officers, the ones who readily hand out parking tickets, to issue a ticket for idling, but Ron Zima, a long-time advocate for going idle-free, says bylaws don’t work.

Zima challenges anyone to find a municipality where anti-idling bylaws have had a major impact on changing the public’s behaviour. He’s confident you won’t find one unless a municipality is willing to set an example by making sure its fleet of vehicles stops idling unnecessarily.

That’s a rarity, and if you don’t have that, you don’t get the buy-in from the population. “The public is looking for authentic leadership,” Zima says. “If a city passes a law and its own municipal fleets aren’t adhering to it, what sort of message does that send? It’s like a doctor telling you you’ve got to stop smoking and he’s got a cigarette in his mouth.”

Zima emphasizes the language. Instead of using the “polarizing” term “anti-idling,” he prefers “idle-free” and has tacked on the words “for our kids” to make people think of the legacy people leave on Earth; and so, Idle Free For Our Kids was born.

“You only get five or six seconds to make a good impression,” he says, and it works. “We get 80 per cent buy in with our approach.”
Zima’s approach aims to dispel myths by educating people.

Myth No. 1: It’s better to let your car idle than restart it. Zima has partnered with Al MacPhee, a car dealer with a sense of community who saw how he could help by lending his expertise to Zima’s campaign. MacPhee says modern cars are designed to drive, not idle. It only takes four minutes for a car to warm up and it does this just as well driving as sitting in your driveway. The cooling system also doesn’t function properly when you’re idling, leading to wear-and-tear on your engine. Contrary to popular belief, it’s better to turn off your car and restart it and you won’t wear out your starter.

Myth No. 2: Idling doesn’t cost you much money. Cutting back idle time by 10 minutes a day will save you $200 per year. Zima’s convinced many companies to go idle-free to help their bottom line and he hopes to have the same impact on the average driver.

He’s not opposed to a bylaw, because as successful as Zima’s idle-free movement has been, you’ll still get outliers. Those are the people to whom a bylaw could be applied.

Idle-free culture will come about once people are given the knowledge they need to make smart decisions. New technology, such as GPS in fleets, fuel-monitoring apps, and telematics devices in cars, are key to getting the important data in the forefront of peoples’ minds.

“If you can measure it, you can manage it,” Zima says.

After 40-plus years of anti-idling bylaws failing to make a significant dent in the problem, Zima says he thinks of the famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.”

It’s time to try something different. June 3 was Clean Air Day in Canada, so why not start now?

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