Environment Minister Richard Bruton is considering laws to tackle engine idling. This could potentially see motorists being fined for unnecessary engine idling outside places such as schools, hospitals, and care homes.
However, it could also see the minister launch a public awareness campaign to highlight the damage it causes. Based on studies in the US, if -idling measures for Ireland’s 10,000-strong bus fleet could result in a reduction of 40 tonnes of air pollution.
A report in the UK said earlier this year the potential of such measures being brought in for their 34,900-strong bus fleet could be a reduction of 120 tonnes.
A spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said: “Transitioning away from fossil fuels is at the heart of the Climate Action Plan. The Plan includes actions which will have a significant impact on improving air quality.”
It also includes developing low-emission zones, and providing local authorities with powers to restrict access to parts of cities and towns to zero-emission vehicles only.
“Emissions from the transport sector, including the question of idling, will be considered in the context of the strategy,” said the spokesperson.
It has emerged that Eamonn Shanahan, honorary secretary of the Irish College of General Practitioners, lobbied Mr Bruton about engine idling legislation in a letter in July.
Dr Shanahan told Mr Bruton: “The board and council of the college advocate on behalf of the profession that the Government legislate for a ban or fines on car engine idling.”
The minister replied that, while emissions are being looked at for his forthcoming Clean Air Strategy, “a number of possible courses of action are being considered”.
It is an offence under Section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulations 1963 to leave a vehicle unattended on a public road with the engine running. Unlike other countries, such as the UK, there does not appear to be legislative provision for unnecessary engine idling. What authorities in the UK call “stationary idling” is an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
The act enforces rule 123 of the UK’s Highway Code, which states drivers must not “leave a vehicle’s engine running unnecessarily” while stationary on a public road. If they do, motorists can incur a £20 fixed-penalty fine under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002.
Many other countries around the world, such as Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, and Germany, have introduced engine idling time limits. Most of the states in the US also have anti-idling regulations.
Green Party councillor Marc Ó Cathasaigh said: “Bringing in a ban would be like using a sledgehammer to crush a nut. Legislation shouldn’t be the first road to go down.
“Instead, the Government should bring in an awareness campaign, much like with the way Irish Water encouraged people to stop letting the tap keep running.”
Meanwhile, the Clean Air Alliance called Mr Bruton’s refusal to implement a nationwide smoky coal ban a “health apartheid”. Instead, there is a suggestion that Mr Bruton could be about to extend an existing but limited ban in certain towns.
The alliance says this leaves the health of residents in some towns more prone to pollution than others.