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Commentary Detail

Stop Your Idling
Commentary by: Liz Forrestal
Aired February 13, 2008

OK fellow drivers, want a simple way to save gasoline, make St. Louis’s air healthier, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Here it is – stop idling your car.

The average driver idles his or her car 5-10 minutes a day - in traffic, in drive-through lanes, or to simply warm up the engine. We waste a lot of gas this way – about 17% of what we put in our cars, says the Dept. of Energy. Then there’s the pollution created by exhaust fumes from cars, buses and trucks. Not only does it contribute to global warming, but it’s linked to serious health effects in children and adults.

There are a number of myths surrounding idling, like needing to “warm up” the engine, especially in winter. But that’s no longer true for today’s cars. The best way to warm up a cold car engine, experts say, is to drive it – not let it sit in park. Nor do you burn excess gas if you turn your car off and back on again while sitting at a curb or drive-through restaurant. In fact, idling for more than 10 seconds actually burns more gas and creates more pollution than turning your engine off and restarting it.

What’s more, idling is against the law. The limit is three minutes in St. Louis County. In the city it’s 10 minutes, though officials there hope to tighten that restriction soon. I hope they do.

Obviously, some idling is unavoidable, as we’re forced to sit at stoplights or in traffic, but a lot of it’s unnecessary. So the next time you’re stopped at the drive-in burger joint or the ATM, remember the 10-second rule and turn off the engine. Your wallet, your community and your planet will thank you.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Liz Forrestal

Liz Forrestal


Liz Forrestal is Executive Director for Missouri Votes Conservation, a non-profit that advocates for pro-environmental legislation in Missouri. She also participates in a number of community environmental groups, and is a board member of Audubon Missouri.

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