Is Idling a Car Against the Law?

July 6, 2023 - 4:25 pm - 4 min read

What is Car Idling?

Car idling happens when you let your vehicle’s engine run while the automobile is stationary or not in motion. Drivers may do so when waiting for someone or during quick stops, such as at a drive-thru, while dropping off their children at school or picking up groceries. Many people also tend to do this as a way to keep the car’s interior warm or cool, but the question often asked is whether or not idling a car is against the law.

Why is Idling a Car a Cause for Concern?

There are numerous reasons why car idling is becoming increasingly controversial. Firstly, it is essential to consider the health and environmental implications that come with leaving the engine running unnecessarily. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, idling cars produce gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and volatile organic compounds, all of which can pose a risk to individual and public health. These toxic byproducts can cause respiratory ailments, cardiovascular disease, and even premature death.

Secondly, car idling is a substantial contributor to air pollution. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an idling vehicle can emit the same pollutants as a vehicle that is traveling at 30 miles per hour. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from idling cars also contribute to climate change.

Lastly, car idling wastes fuel and money. Based on studies, idling for long periods of time such as ten minutes per day, five days a week can cost car owners as much as 20 gallons of gas per year. That may seem like a small amount, but multiply that by the number of cars on the road and the amount of fuel consumed, and the figure rises astronomically.

What Does the Law Say About Car Idling?

Many municipalities have their own laws regarding idling, so before you let your vehicle sit and idly run its engine, it’s essential to be aware of your local regulations. In some areas, it’s permitted to idle a car for a limited amount of time, usually five minutes to avoid gridlock or traffic congestion. Some places prohibit idling for more than five minutes; this is also termed the “Five Minute rule.” Fines and penalties may apply if you break these laws.

In addition, some cities have anti-idling programs that monitor the number of idling vehicles and the emissions they produce. These programs are enforced to protect the city’s environment, public health, and, in some cases, to prevent fuel theft or theft of the vehicle.

Nevertheless, some countries and states have stricter laws in place than others. New York introduced the “One Minute Rule” in 2009, which prohibits motorists from idling for more than one minute with limited exceptions. California has implemented several anti-idling laws that restrict idling while on school grounds, while in proximity to vulnerable populations, and within specific limits.

Why Should We Stop Car Idling and What are the Alternatives?

Reducing the time drivers spend idling their cars means less harmful pollutants in the air, improved public health, and less consumption of non-renewable resources. Here are some alternatives to idling that individuals can consider:

1. Turn off the engine- this is the most effective solution. Whenever possible, turn off the engine when you’re inactive. If you are in a more upscale car, the engine may turn itself off when you come to a stop (stop-start technology).

2. Plan your trips- plan so that you can efficiently navigate routes, avoid traffic congestion, and make as few stops as possible.

3. Utilize car-sharing schemes- if you live in an urban area with car-sharing programs, you can avoid owning a car that requires idling.

4. Public transportation- take advantage of public transportation, car-sharing, cycling, and walking to reduce the number of cars on the road.


In conclusion, idling your car is not only bad for the environment, public health, and the economy but depending on where you are, it could be against the law. Drivers should familiarize themselves with their city or state’s unique laws and policies concerning idling. Reducing or eliminating idling altogether should become a priority, as a small difference can make a significant impact on the world around us.


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