Forget about the idling bylaw

Resident calls city's plans into question on idling vehicles

Council’s new anti-idling law will impose $1,000 after-tax fines on people for idling car engines for more than three minutes.

At a tax rate of 25 per cent, you must earn $1,250 to pay the fine. Doing some simple minimum-wage math, $10.25 times four weeks a month equals $1,640, minus maybe 25 per cent for tax and deductions, gives you about $1,230. So a bylaw person who waited around and caught someone idling their car for three minutes could wipe out an entire month of earnings for some people, or a half month of earnings for more fortunate people.

That’s a huge, life-affecting fine for some people, for only a tiny offense. How tiny? Let’s do some more junior high school math to compare the quantity of offensive idling fumes to all the other car fumes that are produced in the city.

If the quantity of idling fumes is much smaller than the quantity of total fumes, then council’s new anti-idling law is pointless, because it doesn’t address the overall fumes problem in any meaningful way.

Let’s use simple estimates for (1) the number of vehicles burning fuel, (2) their RPM (fuel burn) rates, (3) their engine sizes, and (4) the number of minutes running. Double the vehicles, the RPM, the engine size, or the minutes running, and you double the fumes produced.

(1) During rush hour, at the time when moms pick up their kids at school and offensively idle their engines, what percentage of running vehicles in Vernon are idling at the school? Common sense says that 10 per cent, or even five per cent, seem too high. So let’s go with two per cent and assume that one out of every 50 running vehicles is at the school, offensively idling, picking up a child. Already you can see that council’s new anti-idling law is only addressing a maximum of two per cent (1/50) of the fumes problem. But it gets much worse.

(2) If idling vehicles run at about 1,000 RPM, and moving vehicles run at least 2,000 RPM, moving vehicles generate two times the fumes, increasing the total fumes by 2x. So Council’s new law is now addressing one per cent or less of the fumes problem.

(3) The average engine size of a school moms idling vehicle must be smaller than the average engine size of the vehicles running elsewhere in town.

Think of all of those huge diesel engines on the highway, and all of the V8 pickup and delivery trucks doing business in town. They pull the average engine size way up. For easy math, let’s say the school moms’ engine sizes are half the size of the trucks driving around town. Now council’s new law is addressing 0.5 per cent or less of the fumes problem.

(4) Outside of school pickup minutes, the original two per cent of idling vehicles at schools drops to zero per cent, and council’s new law addresses a vanishingly small part – let’s be truthful and call it essentially zero per cent – of the overall fumes problem because now all vehicles in Vernon, including school moms, continue to generate fumes whenever they are running.

The newspaper editor had it right when he pointed out various problems with bylaw definitions, enforcement, and with the legitimate reasons for why people keep their cars idling in the winter.

For example, to defrost their windshields so they can see through them to drive safely in the school zone.

I think of the unaware tourist victims who happen to stop for three minutes and get fined $1,250 after-tax dollars as they’re passing through our friendly town.

Hopefully, everyone will soon learn to momentarily turn their car off and on again to stay under the three continuous minutes limit, and to thereby significantly reduce our valley-wide inversion air quality problem.


K. Jameson