The Climate Change Steering Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MCOG) recommends fines for vehicles that keep their engines running without moving for more than five minutes, according to the Examiner. The panel recommends exceptions for fire, police, ambulances, and vehicles stuck in traffic jams.

The MCOG panel recommends enforcement of such regulations, which is admirable, since the District of Columbia already has such regulations but doesn’t seem to enforce them.

The District of Columbia has an Excessive Engine Idling penalty of $500 under Title 20 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations sections 20 DCMR 900.1 and 18 DCMR 2601.2. Once a company is convicted of a violation, the fine on subsequent idling tickets is double the amount of the previous fine. There seems to be a per-occurance penalty cap of $5000.

The DC Department of Health Environmental’s Health Administration Air Quality Division has a Compliance and Enforcement Branch. Among targets: “The primary offenders of the engine idling regulations in the District are tour buses, construction trucks, taxi cabs, and solid waste transfer trucks.” It is unclear how many DOH air quality inspectors there are, or whether Metropolitan Police enforce this civil law. I’ve inquired.

The initial excessive idling period in the DC law was three minutes, revised to five minutes, and temporarily extended to 20 minutes during a heat emergency. Perhaps confusion over this standard accounts for the falling-off in DC idling citations.

There are approximately a gazillion charter and tour buses in Washington at any given time. Nobody knows exactly how many. Anyone who lives near a tourist attraction knows that half of these buses are violating the five-minute law at any given time, a finding confirmed by a field study conducted for the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA study posits that the DC idling regulations are not enforced because buses are often spewing their greenhouse gases and particulates near federal sites not patrolled by the DC Government, but the feds should be ticketing anyway, since EPA has similar regulations. Perhaps the local chapter of the American Lung Association can get the D.C. law amended so citizen “bounty hunters” can pop the idlers. Several of my neighbors with emphysema would be glad to wheel their oxygen tanks up to idling buses and hand the drivers a ticket.

My hypothesis is that after the initial bunch of tour buses got tickets, DC inspectors were “warned off” by officials due to complaints from tourist industry lobbyists. Tourism is the Divine Bovine of DC, even though most tour groups today stay at hotels outside the District and pay no sales tax because they buy things at Smithsonian Shops. It doesn’t matter; mutter “Bad for tourism” and you can stall and stymie our government and flout our laws.

Since tourists and their charter buses are increasingly concentrating in the rebuilt Crystal City area, perhaps MCOG will be more successful getting excessive idling laws enforced on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

 Image by Mike Licht.

20 Responses to “Idlers”

  1. Scavenger Says:

    Idling laws are ridiculous,absurd, inane and stupid.

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    Idling laws are ridiculous only if they are not observed, since this will cost the city its federal highway aid due to continued poor air quality. They are absurd to those who have not yet developed asthma, emphysema, or other varieties of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). They are stupid to those who profit from higher energy costs, since they ensure wasted gasoline and higher prices.

  3. Pissed OF Trucker Says:

    These no Idling laws are RIDICULOUS! Id like to see all you sorry… people turm off The power to your homes at nigh while its hot and muggy
    see how well you sleep. sleeping in a rig gets 10 times hotter than a house.

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    Pissed OF[F] Trucker:

    DC does not have a No Idling Law — it has an Excessive Idling Law. If your vehicle is going to stand at the curb for more than five minutes, you do yourself no favor by idling your rig and burning expensive fuel for nothing. Reefers can run their independent compressor units — no one wants to jeopardize perishable payloads. Sleep in the cab at truckstops with electric hookups, it’s safer for everyone. If truckstops are price-gouging on hook-ups, let non-truckers know and we’ll take care of that.

  5. Pissed OF Trucker Says:

    I’m talking about Idle laws accost this Nation..
    Its this type of mind set: “Idling laws are ridiculous only if they are not observed, since this will cost the city its federal highway aid due to continued poor air quality”.. that’s driving these ridiculous laws..
    It’s your type of mind set, just like ppl from mid west to the cost, there just taking it a little further that DC has.
    These laws are dangers to out health and safety.
    Got $6,000.00 $10,000.00 for an apu? I sure don’t.
    Until I do, I’m expected to fry all night. triple dig out west these last few days. And then drive 10 to 11 hrs and maybe on duty up to 14 hrs
    driving an 80k lbs rig down the road.. o’yeah that sounds safe. How many ppl will die from unsafe drivers because of lack of rest?
    I bet a lot more than will from “adeveloped asthma, emphysema, varieties of Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)s”
    And as far as AC hookup ever went to a truck stop around 10pm to 4 am. good luck finding a parking spot. Not only that the laws dictate
    my hrs (HOS) there isn’t AC truck stops at every corner like 7-11’s. some times were forced to shut down where ever we can find a spot to park.
    But hey just go fry in your sleeper and stop killing us all with your stinky truck..

  6. Mike Licht Says:

    Pissed OF Trucker: The Feds have found that the threat of losing local highway aid it the only way to persuade state and local governments to improve air quality. If you can think of another way to get cleaner air, let them know.

    No question, California should have figured out some way to ensure AC power for sleeping truckers before enforcing an idling law like DC has for that entire big, hot state, not just in metro areas. Surely OSHA doesn’t want truckers frying — has anyone got them to work on this? Most local jurisdictions will arrest you for locking a dog in a hot vehicle.

  7. Pissed OF Trucker Says:

    CARB and Smartway, My answer to it..

    Maybe someone from OSHA can look into this.
    I’m going to fire off a e-mail to them but really I don’t think thell touch this one.
    I’m an O/O and these rules and regulations it will affect bottom line.
    I don’t live in places like Calf. or other CARB [California Air Resources Board — ml] adopted States so I have no representation from these legislators imposing there rules on me.

    I don’t have a problem with people wanting clean air but to blame Truckers and impose these rules regulations and restrictions
    on us is ridicules.
    I’m wondering how many Diesel Cars and Pickup Trucks are on the roads daily?
    Is CARB imposing any restrictions on them?
    Why should I have to loose money to cleanup the pollution from over 20 million people in State like Calf. and other States adopting these CARD rules.
    It’s there freight were all delivering for them.
    They want clean air good for them but don’t put it on my dime when its there demand for freight.

    Here’s what I think the Trucking industry should demand from All CARB State Freight.
    Smart CARB Surcharge.
    All freight coming In and going out of these CARB adopted States should have Smart CARB surcharge = to 10 or 15% of the Fuel surcharge. It’s there rules there state there polluting population, let them pay for it..

  8. Mike Licht Says:

    For a view of what Pissed OF Trucker is discussing, see the 1992 New York Times article by Matthew Wald, “California’s Pied Piper of Clean Air,” in the September 13, 1992 New York Times .

    California has the dirtiest air, so EPA gives the state a waiver to impose stricter standards than the federal ones. Other states can choose to adopt the California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards as well, and several do.

    CARB is a rich agency, funded through user fees and a $6 tax on every car. We wonder why CARB doesn’t fund those AC-plug-in stations for truckers sleeping in hot weather.

    Pissed OF Trucker, I’m sure anyone with wheels can sympathize about the economics of your trade, a subject far beyond this post. I’ve heard that commodities trading (read — speculation) now adds 20 percent to the cost of oil and food. I’ve also heard that US petroleum refineries could produce cleaner fuel that would eliminate much air pollution without these restrictive rules and prohibitive costs.

  9. Pissed OF Trucker Says:

    I know this post is more related to DC than National.
    Thank you for letting me vent my frustrations on it.

  10. Mike Licht Says:

    Pissed OF Trucker:

    No prob. We can put the DC law in perspective now. This post may be about DC but the blog is wider in scope.

    Be careful out there this weekend.

  11. Just trying to make a living. Says:

    I drive a motor coach in the DC area a lot. During the winter when it’s below 20 degrees and in the summer when the heat indices are above 100 degrees what are we supposed to do. Do you have parking enough for all us bus drivers to come to your home and sit in your living room with heat or A/C. You complain for your neighbors who have emphasyma, please. When you bought/leased/rented your home was DC a tourist city? I think so, you knew what it was like before you decided to settle here but you did it anyway. So what right do you have to complain? It’s like people who buy a house right next to the highway and then complain about the traffic noise. What sense are you making?
    Look I don’t begrudge you your nice home in your pricey neighborhood, with you high faluttin’ neighbors. Don’t begrudge me a little comfort while having to sit for hours, waiting for people who have come here to visit our nations capitol and spend their money. Personally, I feel that we (motor coach operators)have paid for the priviledge to idle our buses everytime we pay for a permit to enter your fair city. $50.00 a pop!

  12. Just trying to make a living. Says:

    Just as an add on to my last statement. What would happen to the tourism in DC if all motorcoach operators just decided to boycott the city? 90% of the tourism comes in on a motorcoach. Take that into consideration when you are putting in your complaints. Think about the number of extra vehicles there would be from those that really want to visit but have no other means to do so. Think about all the children that are brought up here to learn about our country and what has made it what it is today. If it weren’t for us you wouldn’t be able to move in this area.

  13. Mike Licht Says:

    Just trying to make a living: Do you drive to Atlantic City? Last time I checked, coaches pay $100 per trip, get 5 minutes to drop off passengers before proceeding to the bus parking area, and 5 minutes to pick them up again before leaving town. There are steep fines for drivers who overstay the 5-minute limits.

    How is that different from the excessive idling rule?

    You know there is plenty of coach parking at the huge, under-utilized RFK Stadium parking lot; your trip permit entitles you to use it.

    Every time there has been the kind of heat wave you describe, emergency legislation has extending the permitted duration of idling so drivers could cool down vehicles with A/C. You are notified about weather emergency rules when you pick up your permit. If you get bulk permits, call DMV to see if weather emergency rules are in effect.

    This may be a tourist city for you, but it is home for the 600,000 people who live here and breathe the air.

    Nobody begrudges your efforts to earn an honest living. “An honest living” means you obey the laws of this jurisdiction.

    Don’t like our laws? It’s a big country — drive somewhere else.

  14. Just trying to make a living. Says:

    Like today?
    I was reading over some of the cases that have come before the courts and in everyone of them heat has not been accepted as a exception to the idle law

  15. Just trying to make a living. Says:

    And as far as RFK stadium goes. We are not allowed to idle there either. I do drive other places when the opportunity arises, but for some reason people like to come here. So it’s either here or I don’t work enough, I can’t pay my bills, my kids go hungry, and I’ll be camped on your doorstep. That way we can complain together about the inequalities of life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness.

  16. Just trying to make a living. Says:

    By the way, I never said I don’t obey the laws. I just don’t agree with them. But because of the narrowminded people out there that want to complain who have the money to get what they want, people like me don’t have a chance. I don’t feel that people who have never driven a commercial vehicle should be allowed to make laws pertaining to them. If you’re going to do something that could change the way things are done shouldn’t you have atleast an elementary understanding of what it is first.

  17. Mike Licht Says:

    The RFK Parking Lot is for parking. It is not an Idling Lot. Park there and go elsewhere. You can be as cool or warm as you wish, your coach won’t pollute the air, and you can buy your family nice thick steaks with all the money you save on fuel.

    Read the Fact Sheet at

    The 3-minute idling law (900.1) lets you idle:

    To operate for fifteen (15) minutes air conditioning equipment on buses with an occupancy of twelve (12) or more persons; and

    To operate heating equipment when the local temperature is thirty-two (32) degrees Fahrenheit or below.

    Don’t like the law? No problem: just pay the $500 fine.

    Don’t agree with the law? Move here, run for office, get elected, change the law.

  18. Just trying to make a living. Says:


  19. Mike Licht Says:

    Just trying to make a living: I’ll be posting about DC tourism tomorrow.

    Briefly, you know very well that virtually all bus tour passengers stay in Virginia and Maryland, not DC, so they pay no DC hotel tax. Bus passengers spend all their money in the for-profit Smithsonian Shops where, by some legal quirk, they do not pay DC sales tax. Same when they eat at Smithsonian cafeterias.

    Tour buses no longer employ licensed DC tour guides, and we see many drivers narrating as they navigate the streets that their heavy vehicles destroy. Streets with heavy coach traffic need re-paving every three years. $50 a trip doesn’t cover a tenth of the re-paving cost.

  20. Mike Licht Says:

    Just trying to make a living: The health of residents is much more important than the temporary discomfort of a few paid drivers.

    You certainly have inspired me to campaign for better anti-idling enforcement, and I thank you for it.

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