You're in Washington D.C. on a freezing cold morning, ice frosting your vehicles windows. Not wanting a cold drive to the office, you ask your partner to start the car for you as they leave.
Sounds perfectly reasonable right? Well, beware because if you leave that vehicle running for more than 3 minutes, you may have to pay a whopping $5,000 fine! It's not exactly common knowledge, but many states actually have laws against letting your car idle, even in the cold when you just want a warm drive to work.
Some states or cities even have laws against using automatic car starters, according to Lifewire. Such laws are an outgrowth of existing laws against leaving your car running while you're not inside.
In Atlanta, the law states: "No person shall stop or stand any truck or bus on any street or public place and idle for more than 15 minutes," according to a compilation of idling laws on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) website. Violators face a minimum fine of $500, but there is also a clause that allows for up to 25 minutes when the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
While you may think Washington D.C.'s and Atlanta's regulations are a bit extreme, Ohio has a zero tolerance policy for idling, according to Men's Health. But the citation is also significantly less, set at $50. The Buckeye state isn't the only place in the country taking a hard line stance against idling either. The city of Auburn in California also promises $50 fines to anyone caught running their parked vehicle.
Another example is Colorado, where idling is forbidden, unless the temperatures dip below 20 degrees. Many other cities and states have similar regulations, setting rules based on temperatures and/or time limits.
Of course, there's logic behind putting such laws on the books. With scientists around the world regularly warning humanity about the dire and ballooning effects of climate change, cutting down on vehicle emissions is an important, albeit seemingly small, step to address the issue.
Just last months, a new scientific study revealed that the worst-case predictions regarding climate change are likely the most accurate. The results followed the November publication of an open letter to humanity from more than 15,000 international scientists urging society to address major environmental concerns before it's "too late."
As scientists continue to sound the alarm bells, it certainly pays to be cautious. Even if a few minutes of idling doesn't seem like a big cost to the environment, we have to think on a mass scale. If tens of millions of Americans run their cars for several extra minutes each day, the emissions skyrocket.
At the same time, there has to be a middle ground. In the bitter cold winter temperatures, sometimes preheating your car is the only option. Fortunately, places – such as Atlanta – have added some common sense to their regulation, allowing drivers ample time to heat up their vehicles in low temperatures without risking a fine.
Here's a list of states that have laws against idling, according to the EPA.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Some of the regulations are city specific, while others are state-wide. If you're now concerned that you might have been regularly or occasionally breaking the law, you can check your area's regulations via the EPA's roundup.
Remember, stay warm out there! But also be conscious of the environment and avoid unnecessary fines.