Are You an American Idler?

by Katy on August 4, 2009 · 6 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post, (as the reference to $4 per gallon gasoline will tell you.) Enjoy!


With the advent of $4+ per gallon gasoline in the U.S., many of us are re-thinking our driving habits. Can this errand wait? Should I walk or bike? How about public transportation? These are all great options to explore. But there will be times when most of us will continue to rev up.

The problem is, motorists in the U.S. idle their engines an average of 10 minutes per day.

According to the City of Portland, Office of Transportation, a single hour of car idling burns about one gallon of fuel and gets zero miles to the gallon. In fact, just 10 seconds of idling costs more and pollutes your immediate surroundings more than turning your car off and restarting it again.

Ten seconds? Wow — that’s less than your average red light!

Need more convincing? Consider these specifics, per the City of Portland, Office of Transportation.

“Vehicle emissions are the largest contributing factor to air pollution. The combustion of fossil fuels releases several types of air pollutants that are detrimental to our health. These include sulphur dioxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO) and other toxins contributing to the formation of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.”

Here’s a partial solution. Next time you’re at that extended red light or picking up the kids from school, turn your car off.

You’ll be doing your wallet and the environment a favor.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

J. August 4, 2009 at 10:39 am

The kids in our village did a really cute anti-idling PSA a while back:



Marlyn August 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I think we have the longest lights ever in PA. I try to avoid routes that have a lot of traffic lights. I rather stop at stop signs. Living in the suburban area that I do, this is easy to accomplish.

Idling and wasting gas is definitely something to think about.

Thanks Katy!


Klara Le Vine August 4, 2009 at 9:19 pm

I’m in a dilemna whether to post this, feeling a little guilty – but we were a one family car, causing sometimes tense moments when we both needed (wanted) it. Then as our family grew, our kids starting getting licenses, and also needed (wanted) the use of the car. Finally our car died – and we bought another, but the insurance for new drivers was astronomical!!!! So my husband decided we should get a small car (his is a Pajero – needed to drive the dirt road up to the back of our home) for me and the kids. I hesitated, felt guilty buying a 2nd car, but did insist it be a hybrid. I had no idea how they work, just knew it was ecologically friendly. I got my hybrid – when coasting or stopping, it switches from gas to battery – so NO use of gas while idling. Yes, I have to park at the bottom of our home, which means climbing up 48 steps – that’s fine, good exercise – and the kids are happy. Now the only problem is sharing the car with the kids :>)


Julius August 7, 2009 at 4:25 am

Hell yes, hybrids are definitely nice for this. My parents have a Prius (*very* rare in most of Europe!) and I love it. As do they, of course.

Myself, I certainly switch off the engine when properly stopped (e.g. waiting to pick someone up), but I’m not about to turn it off at red lights… I don’t drive enough to know the timings of the lights around here well enough anyway, plus I wouldn’t trust my car* to start up again quickly enough to avoid pissing off everyone around.

* which is my parents’ old car, the one they replaced with the hybrid.


Vijay R August 11, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Where I live (Bangalore, India) this is a big problem too. The government has come out with a simple/ingenious system of displaying a timer along the traffic lights showing how long (in seconds) it is until the next green.
If it is say longer than 20 seconds or 10 you can (and a lot of people do) turn off their engines.


WilliamB August 13, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Um, nix on turning off your car at red lights. It’s illegal in most jurisdictions and you really need to be able to maneuver quickly at an intersection, frex if a sirening car/ambulance comes through.

But a great big YES for all the other situations. When I was a kid the rule of thumb was 30 seconds – it was worth turning off your car if you were going to be stopped for half a minute. Now car ignitions are so efficient that the rule is six seconds. I was stunned when I heard that.

I should say, car ignitions in the West and not if you have a really old car.


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