by Cecily Beall | Did you know that is it illegal to idle a commercial vehicle in the District for more than three minutes? In fact, the District has an aggressive idling enforcement and outreach program. All fossil fuel-powered vehicles emit air pollutants, although diesel vehicles are a particular problem. Tailpipe emissions contribute to a wide variety of respiratory and heart problems, including asthma. Washington DC has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. One of the most common calls we receive from the public is about an idling vehicle in front of their home or office.
So what are we doing about the problem of engine idling in the District? Of course, we have a traditional enforcement program. DC is known to have one of the most active idling enforcement programs in the region. However, given the large number of vehicles, inspectors cannot check them all. Therefore, we are taking some innovative outreach approaches to educate truck and bus drivers in the Metropolitan Washington region about the District’s idling regulation.
DC’s regulation limits idling of commercial vehicles to three minutes, unless it is below freezing, in which case the limit is five minutes. The fine for a violation is $1,000, which we hope is a significant deterrent. And the fine doubles each time the same company receives another ticket. Inspectors check for idling vehicles in areas such as the monuments and museums on the national Mall, Ford’s Theater, the farmer’s market, and trash transfer stations. You probably think of delivery trucks and tour buses when you think of idling, but we have also issued fines to armored trucks, school buses, and trucks that shred paper files. There are three District and two Federal agencies with the authority to issue tickets for violating the idling limits. While we enforce the idling regulation year round, we step up enforcement during the summer, when vehicle emissions contribute to the ozone (smog) problem.
In an effort that is part of both enforcement and outreach, DDOE is using federal stimulus funds to make and place approximately 800 anti-idling signs in areas around the District where inspectors regularly see idling buses and trucks. In addition to tourist and business areas, we are working with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to place signs near schools where buses and parent vehicles idle and at school loading docks where delivery trucks idle. If after all this effort we have extra no-idling signs, we hope to be able to offer them to businesses in the District that have idling vehicles such as delivery trucks.
Air pollution in the District is a regional problem because air pollutants come from many sources outside the District. In addition, many of the vehicles operating and idling in the District come from outside the District. For these reasons, we have been working with our counterparts in Virginia and Maryland and regional and national trucking and busing associations on an outreach campaign to truck and bus drivers. Our efforts have included articles, advertisements, and editorials in online and paper magazines directed at drivers. We also placed announcements about idling regulations and fines on satellite radio programs specifically targeted to truck drivers. We posted banners and signs in the bus parking lots at Six Flags America in Maryland. Our inspectors identified the most common areas in the District for idling trucks and buses, and street teams went to those areas to hand out brochures about idling and talk with drivers about the health impacts of idling. And finally, we began a Driver Recognition Program, giving recognition and prizes to bus and truck drivers who were observed turning their engines off promptly. For more information about the campaign or to nominate a driver, go to www.TurnYourEngineOff.org
By using traditional enforcement and innovative outreach and education efforts, multiple sources of funding, coordination with neighboring jurisdictions, and cooperation with interested partners, DDOE is working to reduce one of the sources of air pollution in the District and so improve the health of those who live, work, and play here.
Cecily Beall is the Associate Director of Air Quality Division at DDOE.