Despite the well-known environmental and health issues caused by engine idling, some areas in Niagara including West Lincoln, Lincoln and Grimsby currently have no rules preventing the practice.
But residents are calling for a change, to save our environment, health and taxpayer money.
Liz Benneian, executive director of the Ontariogreen Conservation Association in Vineland, is clear about the harm that idling engines has on the environment.
“If you’re idling your car,” she said, “you’re definitely contributing.”
“Canadians have this long and bad tradition of idling their car in their driveways,” said Benneian. In summer, drivers idle to cool down their car, and in winter they do the same to heat them up.
But Benneian stressed that with modern car technology, internal car temperatures can usually reach a comfortable temperature by the time you’re at the end of your street.
Idling, said Benneian, should be a bigger issue than it is, and that there should be action from top levels of government when it comes to environmental issues like this.
But at present, decisions about idling bans are left to individual municipalities. This means that there is a patchwork of rules across Niagara.
St. Catharines and Niagara Falls have dedicated bylaws that make it an offence to idle cars for longer than three minutes, with exceptions (such as emergency services responding to calls). Port Colborne has a similar bylaw but allows idling up to five minutes.
Pelham has a noise bylaw that mentions idling, preventing commercial vehicles from idling their engines for over 30 minutes.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has a similar noise-reduction bylaw, which prevents engine idling for more than five minutes in a residential area. The town recently had a consultant complete a fleet management review, and a deliverable of which will be to present council with recommendations regarding the introduction of an anti-idling bylaw, which is anticipated this summer.
However, in West Lincoln, Lincoln, Grimsby, Fort Erie, Wainfleet and Welland, there are no rules preventing drivers from idling for any amount of time.
Some, like Lincoln, are open to considering implementing something.
"We’re always looking at ways to help improve the quality of life for our residents and business owners as it pertains to nuisances, especially in light of the municipality’s focus on protecting the environment," said Director of Economic Development and Communications Paul Di Ianni, adding they're interested in seeing what neighbouring communities are doing.
Benneian believes that in the absence of provincial or federal laws, municipalities should take action. “Once the leaders set the rules,” she said, “then people will go along with them.”
Car idling is a major contributor to atmospheric pollution. Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), estimates that if Canadian motorists cut down on idling for as little as three minutes every day for a year, it would reduce CO2 emissions by 1.4 million tonnes annually.
That would be the equivalent of saving 630 million litres of fuel or taking 320,000 cars off the road for a year.
It’s not just the environment that Niagara residents are worried about, though.
Randy Bastarache who lives in Vineland is concerned about the financial waste when Town of Lincoln vehicles are being idled, especially given the high price of gas.
When he walked his dog near a construction site on Rittenhouse Road in Vineland, he would see “a lot of people idling with no-one in the vehicle.”
The “economy of fossil fuels is at its peak,” he said. “I would think that it adds tens of thousands of dollars to a project.”
But he complained that “no-one wanted to have conversations around policy to encourage correct behaviour and discourage incorrect behaviour.”
“Why are all the politicians ignoring the questions of what can we do to penalize wasteful behaviour?” he asked. “I can’t imagine that anyone would disagree (that it’s a) wasteful use of resources.”
If the environmental and economic impacts don’t concern you, there’s always a more immediate potential impact of idling, says Benneian.
“Thieves can take your car as well,” she warned.
Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News