Drivers who repeatedly leave their engines running while parked could receive instant fines under proposals being considered by the government to give local authorities more power to reduce pollution.
Councils have been calling for tougher laws to help tackle idling, with officers unable to impose penalties unless drivers ignore an initial warning and remain stationary for at least another minute.
The environment secretary, Michael Gove, told the Times that instant fines for repeat offenders should be considered but stressed that any new powers should be “used proportionately” by councils.
Fines can range from £20 to £80 under existing regulations. Westminster city council has issued 39 penalty charge notices for unnecessary engine idling since 2017.
The central London borough has urged the government to allow for the punishment of companies whose drivers are repeatedly caught idling with fines of more than £1,000, saying delivery drivers and commercial vehicles were the worst offenders.
“We need to change the way people think about engine idling,” said Westminster council leader Nickie Aiken, adding that it needlessly contributed to air pollution.
“Having spoken to more than 20,000 drivers so far, our air quality marshals found that most who idle, do so out of habit. Once they know the damage it causes, including the health risks, and they’re asked to switch off the engine, they do so and think twice before idling again. Fines should be a last resort – we prefer to ask nicely.”
Aiken added that nothing less than a four-figure sum would serve as a “sufficient deterrent” for large companies whose drivers continue “widespread and persistent idling even after being asked”.
Camden council would like the power to issue motorists with instant fines. “While engagement [with the driver] is useful it is not going to cause everybody to change their behaviour in the way that getting a fine might,” Adam Harrison, Camden’s cabinet member for environment, told the Times.
According to Westminster council, an idling car produces enough exhaust emissions to fill 150 balloons a minute. It has called on the public to report unnecessary engine idling through its website, adding that the borough suffers from the worst air pollution in the country.
Up to 18 local authorities in London have been involved in so-called “idling action events”, with drivers approached and asked to switch off their engines when parked. Islington council said 80% of drivers switch off if requested in a friendly and non-judgmental manner.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We are determined to reduce the damaging environmental impacts of drivers who keep their engines running while stationary, especially those in school zones.
“This is why we are making guidance for local authorities clearer, so that they know how and when to target drivers falling foul of the law. We will also be polling local authorities to understand how any potential review of these powers may look in future.”
New guidance will be issued to mitigate against any discrepancies in enforcement across the UK, with some council’s expected to be more proactive than others.