Idling longer than 2 minutes now illegal in Salt Lake City

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SALT LAKE CITY — Motorists who leave their vehicles idling for more than two minutes in Utah's capital city run the risk of being fined.

The Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an ordinance making idling of vehicle engines a crime punishable by a fine of between $50 and $210, depending on the number of offenses and how quickly fines are paid.

The goal, city leaders said, is to improve air quality in the Salt Lake Valley, where more than 50 percent of air pollution comes from vehicle exhaust.

"Anything we can do to reduce pollution on an individual basis contributes to what we need to do on a valley-wide basis," Councilman Stan Penfold said.

The ordinance includes plans for a public awareness campaign and a six-month grace period to make sure Salt Lake City residents and visitors are aware of the new law and its purpose before any fines are issued.

Did you know...
  • Idling for 10 seconds uses the same amount of gas as restarting your car.
  • The typical amount of vehicle starts per day is estimated at between 5-10.
  • Increasing the number of vehicle starts by 6-10 a day probably would not increase operating costs.
-Idle Free Utah

First-time offenders of the ordinance will be let off with a warning.

"Our primary goal is to educate as opposed to enforce," Councilman Carlton Christensen said.

That goal led the City Council to modify the ordinance Tuesday and make businesses with drive-through windows exempt from the fines, as long as city-approved signs are posted at those locations to make customers aware of the law.

Health impact
  • While sitting in an idling vehicle, occupants are exposed to higher levels of vehicle pollution than when the vehicle is in motion because exhaust enters the cabin.
  • Studies have linked pollution from vehicles to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease, and asthma.
  • Children, whose lungs are still developing, breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults.
  • Asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalization for children under the age of 15. Asthma is also the most common chronic illness in children and the cause of most school absences.
-Idle Free Utah

Signs will be made by the city and available to businesses with drive-through windows for a yet-to-be-determined fee, likely about $20.

"We're creatures of habit," Councilman Van Turner said, noting that people generally bank in one place and have favorite fast-food restaurants. "I'm in favor of the signs because it's going to remind you (about the law) every single day."

The Utah Restaurant Association and Utah Bankers Association had expressed concern that the anti-idling ordinance would hinder businesses that rely on drive-through service.

City leaders are hoping signs at drive-throughs act as much or more of a deterrent than the threat of a fine.

Drive-through businesses join a long list of exemptions to the ordinance, including temperature. The law allows for motorists to idle vehicles so they can operate heaters and defrosters when the temperature is below 32 degrees or air conditioning when it's warmer than 90 degrees.

Concessions also will be made for emergency vehicles and on-duty police officers, among others.

Enforcement of the ordinance falls to the parking division, not police, and city leaders don't expect to be writing many tickets.

Bianca Shreeve, assistant to the mayor's chief of staff, said enforcement mainly will be complaint based.

"The focus is education," Shreeve said.

The two-minute citywide limit puts Salt Lake City's idling restrictions among the lowest in the nation, joining Park City, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, city officials said.

In Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey, idling is limited to three minutes statewide. New York City, St. Louis County, Mo., and Washington, D.C., also have three-minute idling restrictions.

The citywide idling restrictions stem from a 2008 executive order by Mayor Ralph Becker that prohibits idling of city vehicles for more than 10 seconds. A year earlier, then-Mayor Rocky Anderson put in place a five-minute idling limit for city vehicles.


Written by Jared Page with contributions from Alex Cabrero.

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