SALT LAKE CITY – Jodi Miller likes her coffee as much as anyone, but she admits to feeling guilty idling her car with a half-dozen others at a coffee shack on a residential street corner.
Miller knows Salt Lake City recently passed a law that limits “unnecessary” idling to no more than two minutes. She’s pushing the limit at Java Jo’s in the Avenues neighborhood.
“I usually turn my car off. I try to remember that but sometimes I just space it,” said Miller, waiting for a carhop to deliver coffee.
Miller is at little risk of getting a ticket. About 20 states, 50 cities or towns and 33 counties across the country limit engine idling time with fines and even jail time, the American Transportation Research Institute reports, but actual enforcement is spotty or non-existent with officials proclaiming they emphasize public education over ticketing.
“It’s pretty difficult to get a fine when you can accumulate three warnings before a fine,” said Art Raymond, a spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
Joining the idling action, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed an executive order May 31 to limit idling in the state’s fleet of 7,300 vehicles to no more than 30 seconds — part of a strategy to avoid federal Clean Air Act violation sanctions.
Other officials say it’s almost impossible to catch idling violators in the act.
“The problem with idling at a lot of places is it’s here today, gone tomorrow,” said Greg Thomas, a supervisor at Denver’s Department of Environmental Health. Checking his records, Thomas said nobody has been cited in Denver for idling for at least the past five years.
That leaves environmental groups complaining that idling restrictions are the Rodney Dangerfield of state and local laws — they don’t get much respect.
“Why isn’t this the law of the land? It’s such a no-brainer,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. “Idling remains a pervasive problem, and whether there’s a law on the books or not doesn’t seem to matter.”
Exhaust gases are toxic and believed to be the cause for soaring urban asthma rates, especially in children.