Idling On Campus: Dirty, Expensive, & Illegal

By Erin Bassler

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the heater is so delightful.

That’s what we tell ourselves after wasting 15 to 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, texting, reading, and killing time in our cars with the engine running.

It’s an age-old story—Jim arrives early, Jim miraculously finds a decent parking space. Jim doesn’t want to brave the blistering winter chill just to spend 20 minutes waiting for his class to start. What’s the harm in killing some time in the car?

Turns out, quite a lot.

“It pollutes the air,” Worcester State University Police Chief Michael Nockunas explained. “We’ve got 5000 students and it’s a big commuter campus. We can see when it’s a hazardous situation.”

idlingcarsCar idling is poisonous, both inside and out. Every 10 minutes of idling lets loose an entire pound of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The more time you spend soaking up those heated leather seats, the faster global warming chips away at your vacation conditions.

The environment’s not the only thing at risk CO2 poisoning can kill you inside your car, but not as quickly as an episode of Law & Order might have you believe.

Chief Nockunas clarified, “It only happens if the tailpipe is snow-banked or confined. When the engine is running in a small, enclosed space, you can run into trouble.”

Consider the blizzard of ’15. In such extreme conditions, the threat may be a viable one. In fact, the threat to the environment is so serious that Massachusetts, along with 29 other states, enforces strict anti-idling state laws.

The Massachusetts Anti-Idling Law found in The Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 90, Section 16A states: “No person shall cause, suffer, allow, or permit the unnecessary operation of the engine of a motor vehicle while said vehicle is stopped for a foreseeable period of time in excess of five minutes. This section shall not apply to:

  • Vehicles being serviced, provided that operation of the engine is essential to the proper repair thereof, or
  • Vehicles engaged in the delivery or acceptance of goods, wares, or merchandise for which engine assisted power is necessary and substitute alternate means cannot be made available or,
  • Vehicles engaged in an operation for which the engine power is necessary for an associated power need other than movement and substitute alternate power means cannot be made available provided that such operation does not cause or contribute to a condition of air pollution.”

It may be a mouthful, but that legal jargon can cost you from hundreds of dollars in fines. For college students with only a handful of ones in their wallets, those numbers are the stuff of nightmares.

At last comes the most tangible of consequences. That immediate threat that makes everything that you’ve brushed off in the past, suddenly seem very real. All the money you bus tables and brave retail for to pay off those student loans, cover your half of the rent, and put towards your Thirsty Thursdays — wasted on refilling your tank because you didn’t want to zip up your coat and go indoors.

A car engine normally combines gasoline and air to get it going. The mixture is then transported, compressed and ignited in an impressive scientific manner and voila! She lives! Except gas is much less likely to vaporize in the winter, thus causing those oh-so-endearing stalling situations on chilly January mornings. To make up for it, your car adds more gasoline to the mix in order to start, but most of that excess gets left behind in the cylinders, wearing down the engine’s life.

Basically, if the engine’s a-running, the gas she is a-guzzling. Idling in your car only kills it and your wallet faster.

“Why sit in your car? Go somewhere you can stretch out, set up your computer, have a coffee,” Chief Nockunas suggested. “If you want isolation, there are personal cubbies in the library.”

Spread your newfound knowledge! If you care about what happens to this planet we live on, then make an effort to make others aware. Start an Idling Reduction Campaign in your community and get people involved.

Check out this link to help get you started: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dep/air/community/depirkit

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