top of page

The Importance Of Not Being Idle

ZERO works with the Global Centre for Clean Air Research to try to improve air quality in Guildford, which is in the 97th percentile for air pollution in England (yes, that's extremely bad). Read on to find out why anti-idling strategies are an important part of this work.

Blog by Priya Attapatto

In 2005 Noel Gallagher released a single called 'The Importance of Being Idle', taken from Oasis’s sixth studio album Don't Believe the Truth. Being a wide-eyed Oasis fan I assumed he was dropping social commentary truth bombs with that song title. Noel, quite simply, must be mocking the farcical comedy play by Oscar Wilde – the one about Being Earnest. I was giving him way too much credit. He came out publicly saying the name of his song was directly stolen from a humorous self-help book by author Stephen Robins.

Stick with me, there is a point! Noel makes statements like “I recycle. I take the Tube. I don’t drive” and believes himself 'part of the solution' to climate change because his carbon footprint is consequently low. As a non-driver, he might not have come across the subconscious phenomenon of idling – but if you drive, please read on and share, to help us raise awareness of the dangers of idling in our local community.

What Is Idling?

Idling is when a driver leaves the engine running whilst the vehicle is stationary - for example, waiting for children outside schools, or sitting in traffic.

In the UK, it is an offence to leave vehicle engines running unnecessarily when stationary.

This means it is not illegal to idle in traffic, but it is when you park and wait. Idling at traffic lights can expose you and your passengers to 10 times more exhaust pollution inside the car than walking past an idling car!

Why Is Addressing Idling Important?

Public health

Idling is not just a climate or environmental issue – it is also a public health and safety issue. It causes significant air pollution, and children are more at risk and vulnerable because they breathe

50% more air per kg of body weight than adults. The Royal College of Physicians estimate 40,000 deaths a year in the UK are linked to air pollution, and engine idling is a big contributor to this. Exhaust from cars is a key component of ground-level ozone or smog, and can cause serious health effects. In addition, very fine particles emitted from diesel and petrol engines

are lung irritants and can trigger asthma attacks and more serious health conditions. All of

these contaminants are produced when cars idle.

Diesel trucks and buses produce fine particulates as well as nitrogen oxides, sulphur

dioxide, carbon oxides and over 40 other kinds of toxic emissions. Petrol vehicles produce

significantly less fine particulates than diesel vehicles but still produce nitrogen oxides,

carbon oxides and other toxic contaminants, such as benzene. Catalytic converters reduce vehicle emissions but the number of vehicles on the road is increasing. Collectively, the

impact of these emissions is significant.

Counterintuitively, the air quality inside a car is usually worse than outside – because

pollutants and particulates build up inside the semi-sealed environment. Closing the

windows won’t help protect you or your passengers from air pollution.

Idling and Climate Change

Carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to climate change, is produced when the vehicle is

idling. An increase in concentration of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere

causes rising global average temperatures, and has now been categorically linked to

weather extremes such as heat waves, droughts, floods and spread of disease. Stabilising

atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is essential to avoid these potential

environmental impacts.

46% of Surrey's carbon emissions come from transport, with idling unnecessarily contributing significant amounts of CO 2 and other pollutants – just one minute of idling in a

normal car can produce 150 balloons worth of exhaust fumes.

The Truth About Idling



If it's cold out I need to keep the engine running to keep the heater on

If you switch the engine off when you park and keep the ignition on, the heater should stay warm for around 30 minutes

If I'm parked on a yellow line I won't get a ticket if I keep the engine running

If a parking warden spots you, you'll get a ticket whether you're engine is running or not

Stopping and starting every time I'm stationary will wear my engine out

This is not a problem with modern engines, and not idling will cut your fuel costs too!

Idling for a few seconds doesn't contribute that much to air pollution

Idling for 1 minute creates the equivalent of 150 balloons full of CO2!!

Tips To Reduce Idling

Here are some tips to help you protect your own health, cut pollution, and ensure clean air for all.

Turn off your ignition if you're waiting more than 7-10 seconds

Contrary to popular belief, restarting your car does not burn more fuel than leaving it idling.

In fact, idling for just ten seconds wastes more fuel than restarting the engine.

Warm up your engine by driving it, not by idling

Today's engines do not need to warm up, even in winter. The best way to warm the engine

is by easing into your drive and avoiding excessive engine revving. The vehicle's engine

warms twice as quickly when driven.

Scrape That Windscreen

It's way too easy to turn the car on and forget about it on frosty mornings, hoping to de-ice your windscreen with minimal effort. The 5 minutes of idling to defrost the car creates a huge amount of unnecessary pollution. Get your gloves on and your scraper out and leave the engine off until you're in the car.

Warm up the cabin interior by driving, not idling

Easing into your drive is also the best way to get your vehicle's heating system delivering

warmer air faster. Sitting in an idling car means you are breathing in more of the dirty

exhaust that leaks into the car cabin. Car heaters will also stay warm for around 30mins after

driving, so there is no benefit to keeping the engine running just to heat a car.

Protect your car engine by idling less

Frequent restarts are no longer hard on a car's engine and battery. The added wear is much

less costly than the cost of wasted fuel. Idling actually increases overall engine wear by

causing the car to operate for longer than necessary.

‘She’s Electric’

Instead of not driving at all – like Noel Gallagher – you could consider buying an electric car

if you’re in a position to do so. These still generate particulates from brakes and tyres, but

avoid the additional exhaust fumes.

What’s Happening To Prevent Idling

In March 2019, the Guildford Joint Committee held a ‘Parking and Air Quality Working Group

– air quality update and priorities’ meeting. It was formally recognised that there were

significant implications regarding air quality in Guildford (including community involvement and impact), Sustainability (including Climate Change and Carbon Emissions) and Public Health.

Aside from the uptake of some grant money for some electric taxis not nearly enough is happening locally to prevent the effects of idling contributing to a public health crisis.

Locally, ZERO is trying to bring together some action on air pollution in Guildford. We work with the Global Centre For Clean Air Research (GCARE) at the University Of Surrey. GCARE have

recently installed air monitors on the fascia of ZERO, which will give live readings of the air quality outside the building! We're working with schools on an active travel campaign which will help cut emissions and air pollution around schools. If you'd like to support these initiatives please get in touch.

223 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page