The transport sector is responsible for around 20 percent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions each year. Switching to public transport, electric vehicles or choosing to walk or cycle instead are some of the ways we can reduce our transport emissions.

Or you could start with a small step that has a big impact: get in the habit of switching off your engine when your vehicle is stationary to reduce engine idling.

Idling for more than 10 seconds burns fuel inefficiently, leading to totally unnecessary emissions.

Idle threats

Idling has several negative consequences, apart from damaging the environment. It can also impact your vehicle’s useful life, your health and the health of the other motorists and pedestrians inhaling your fumes.

The emissions and fumes from idling engines have been linked to major health concerns including eye, throat, and bronchial irritation, nausea, coughs, allergies, increased risk for cardiac events, decreased lung function, and even cancer. For people with preexisting heart disease, asthma or other lung problems, car emissions can be a major contributor to their symptoms. Children are particularly vulnerable because their respiratory systems are still developing.

School run

Idling is a particular concern outside schools where buses and cars create pollution hotspots that are damaging to children’s health leading to an increased risk of childhood asthma and reduced lung function.

Think about all the cars outside schools in towns across the country that idle unnecessarily every day. An estimated 500,000 New Zealand students drive or are driven to school every day. Not every one of those cars will idle but we’ve all seen the havoc outside schools at drop off and pick up.

Anti-idling campaigns and driver education can help improve air quality around schools.

In the US and Canada, local and state governments introduced anti-idling legislation to reduce fuel use, emissions and noise. In California anti-idling policies aimed at reducing school children’s exposure to vehicle emissions were linked to the development of larger, healthier lungs.

To cut down on the number of cars idling outside your school, think about carpooling with your neighbours. Or better yet, join or start a walking school bus.

The Idle Off Project is an Australian initiative designed for high school students to make them and their parents more aware of the issues around idling including:

  • What are transport emissions?
  • Measuring air pollution around your school
  • Tell your school community to IDLE OFF!
  • Messaging and ideas to help you communicate.

Suburban myths

Reducing idling doesn’t just lower your carbon footprint, it can also lower your fuel costs by up to 10 per cent. A recent Transport Energy/Emission Research report from Australia found that Australians likely idle more than 20 per cent of their drive time. According to the report, “this contributes up to 8 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions over the journey, depending on the vehicle type. To put that into perspective, removing idling from the journey would be like removing up to 1.6 million cars from the road.”

Many people believe that switching your engine off and then turning it back on is bad for your vehicle and uses more fuel. Neither of these urban legends are true. Switching your engine off and on again may have an impact on your battery but it is minimal and no reason not to switch off.

If you idle for 10 seconds or more, which most people do, then turning off your engine and turning it back on does not burn more fuel than idling. So stick to the 10-second rule. If you’re idling for more than 10 seconds, turn off your engine.

Simple solutions

Many newer vehicles have start-stop systems that switch off a car's engine when the vehicle is stopped. According to the AA, this technology delivers between 5 and 10 per cent lower emissions and also leads to a similar improvement in fuel economy.

If your vehicle doesn’t have a start-stop system, try and get in the habit of switching off your engine whenever you are stalled. If you are frustrated by traffic, use it as a trigger to switch off your engine. Who knows, by switching off your engine you might also be able to switch off your emotions and breathe through the traffic jam.