December SR Movie:


When: Wednesday, December 11, 7 pm.  Where:  Peacock Hall

IDLE THREAT is a look at one man’s spirited struggle to improve public health by raising awareness about the impact of vehicle idling exhaust. His mission: draw attention to legislation making it illegal in New York City to idle a parked car or truck for more than 3 minutes — and put some teeth behind the enforcement of the law.

Idling engines consume more than 6 billion gallons of gasoline annually in the U.S., a significant but little-known contributor to local air pollution, respiratory and other diseases, and global climate change. The fumes contain several GHGs, including nitrous oxide which damages airways, blood vessels, and affects mental function. Other cities and some States have similar laws, but staff time for enforcement is lacking. Below are details about California and the Bay Area.

In a white shirt and tie, Wall Street banker George Pakenham has walked the streets of New York since 2003, courteously confronting over 3,000 drivers to explain idling’s impact and the 1971 NYC law prohibiting running a parked vehicle for more than 3 minutes. He has gained world-wide recognition for the anti-idling cause, with articles featured in the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker magazine, the Financial Times, and on TV. 

He has found that over 70% of drivers will turn off their engines, no matter the weather, after discussion of a card he’s had printed that lists the public health impacts of idling on one side and quotes the law on the other. Those drivers that don’t comply can be subject to a fine that starts at $350 and goes up to $2,000. When documented with photos or videos, he and others are eligible to receive 20% of the fine. He personally has collected more than $10,000 this way and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection now receives over 1,000 documented complaints annually.

65 minutes with SDH captions.


Several US states have some sort of restrictions on both truck and car idling. 

In California, there is a 5 minute idling restriction for diesel trucks or if an idling vehicle is unattended, and a 30 second restriction on commercial vehicles (e.g. buses) parked near schools. Palo Alto passed the most restrictive US law this summer, with a “2 or 3 minute” idling limit on all stationary vehicles (e.g. not in traffic). The UK has the most restrictive idling laws.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has had a campaign for several years, organized by the Spare-the-Air team. They created a cute video and a “toolkit”.  Because the toxic fumes are heavier than air and children are low to the ground, they are more at risk. A few school systems and some merchants with drive-thru lanes have created “idle-free zones”. At Pittsburg and Martinez schools, children volunteer to stand at the curb and enforce posted signs where parents line up their cars. Most Walnut Creek and Lamorinda schools have yet to take action.

The fumes enter through the front of your car if your engine is running and the car in front if you is idling. The gaseous toxins are concentrated more than 10-fold inside your car. Your air filter only works on particulate matter, not these toxic gases. Idling engines burn gasoline much less efficiently than when in motion, upping the hazards. Hybrid vehicles and EVs produce no such pollution, but are vulnerable to cars with internal combustion engines in front.

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