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Traffic is one of the major causes of air pollution. Reducing emissions from road transport is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve local air quality. This can be done by reducing the use of vehicles, especially older, more polluting vehicles, and by avoiding idling whenever possible.


This issue is particularly important because of the links between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality and the ruling in the recent Ella Kissi-Debrah inquest, that air pollution contributed to the nine year old’s death.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is associated with lung inflammation and can trigger asthma symptoms from short-term exposure, while long-term exposure to higher concentrations of NO2 can impair lung development in children and can contribute to serious conditions such as asthma and heart and lung disease, as presented in reports from Public Heath England and the World Health Organization.

About engine idling

Idling is where drivers leave their vehicle’s engine running whilst the vehicle is stationary.

Reasons to avoid idling

You should stop engine idling because:

  • Idling creates air pollution and is usually unnecessary. Car idling produces up to 150 balloons of exhaust emissions per minute which contains harmful chemicals like cyanide, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and tiny particles called PM2.5
  • The air pollution created by engine emissions is known to contribute to many health issues, including asthma, lung disease, heart attacks and cancer. The Royal College of Physicians say 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK are linked to air pollution, with car idling being a contributing factor. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, as are people with existing conditions such as asthma and other lung complaints
  • Idling is an offence in law under Regulation 98 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, as amended, which makes it a requirement for drivers to switch off engines in stationary vehicles. Drivers who are seen idling by our civil enforcement officers will be asked to turn off their engines and warned that failing to do so will lead to a fine. If the driver refuses to switch off their engine after the request, they will be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) of £20. The notice must be paid within 28 days, or it will increase to £40

Idling and pollution

An idling engine burns fuel less efficiently and so produces more emissions than when the vehicle is moving. Additionally, the toxic gases produced by idling are all emitted in the same place, so localised air pollution is higher. It is particularly important to avoid idling near schools because research shows that exposing children to high levels of air pollution can stunt lung growth, as well as causing behavioural and mental health problems.

For more information please see our informational video.

What we are doing 

We have several long-term and recently implemented policies which are helping to reduce idling in the borough.

These include:

  • Adopting anti-idling legislation. From 1 March 2019, we commenced fining drivers who refused to turn off their engines when asked
  • Delivering anti-idling events. We aim to reduce idling and increase awareness of idling-related pollution across the borough
  • Increasing the number of civil enforcement officers (traffic wardens). This enables all traffic wardens to remind drivers caught idling their engines to turn off their engines and to enforce the law by fining those that refuse to do so
  • Posting appropriate anti-idling signage. 'No engine idling' signage has been erected at key locations such as railway level crossings and schools to remind drivers to switch off
  • Working with schools as part of a coordinated London-wide scheme tackling idling, called Idling Action. Much work is ongoing with schools to educate children about air pollution and idling, and to promote active travel to reduce vehicle use for the 'school run'
  • Consulting on school streets. Roads outside some schools are suitable for school streets which are designed to restrict motorised vehicles at school drop-off and pick-up times. They help to provide a cleaner, safer and healthier environment for everyone
  • Helping businesses to review their travel policies. Businesses are encouraged to reduce business travel where possible and to promote alternatives to using private vehicles for commuting
  • Raising awareness of business-related idling. Providing fleet training for businesses through our Idling Action London membership
  • Reducing the impact of the council fleet. The Council is aware of the need to reduce its own impact in the environment and has strict emissions clauses in its procurement documents

How you can help 

From the year 2000, our borough was declared an Air Quality Management Area and since that time has been committed to improving air quality in the borough.

We need your help and there are several ways that you can do this:

Idling Action

We are asking drivers to switch off engines when their vehicle is parked for more than one minute. This does not apply if you are stopped at traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing of any kind, or if your vehicle has broken down and it is necessary to run the engine to fix the problem.

Examples of when the anti-idling rules do apply are:

  • When your car is stationary at the side of the road but is not sitting in traffic
  • When you are waiting at a railway level crossing
  • When you have stopped outside a school or business

Idling Action events and volunteering

Idling Action events are held regularly across the borough each year. Volunteers provide idling information and leaflets to drivers who are encouraged to turn off their engines to help improve local air pollution. The events are organised by the council for residents who want to take action against idling in the borough. You can volunteer by emailing the officer directly.

Residents wishing to attend an Idling Action event as a volunteer will be asked to watch a 30-minute training video.

Pledge not to idle

You can also show your support by completing our online pledge not to idle.

Reduce your use of polluting vehicles

There are lots of ways to do this, including:

  • Cut down your use of motorised vehicles. Not only will this reduce the pollution that you create but it will also protect you from pollution. Research has shown that drivers and passengers inside cars are more at risk than cyclists and pedestrians, even on busy roads, as they are closer to the exhaust of the car in front
  • Change your vehicle to a more environmentally friendly option. This could be buying a newer model with a smaller engine and/or higher EU emissions standard, or moving to a greener engine type, ideally fully electric. Using an electric vehicle not only helps the environment, it can also save you money with significantly lower fuel costs and free parking in the borough
  • Travel by bike. You can find out about cycling in Richmond borough and London, and you can get help to plan your routes
  • Use more public transport
  • Choose to walk. Plan low pollution or scenic routes on Walk it. They also have an App that you can download
  • Consider what your business can do to reduce its air pollution impact. In doing so you could promote a more active lifestyle for employees, lower absentee rate and potentially save money

Idling myths and truths

Myth 1

"If it's cold outside, I need to keep my engine running to keep the heater on."

Truth: If you switch the engine off but keep the ignition on, the heater should stay warm for up to 30 minutes.

Myth 2

"If parked on a yellow line, keeping my engine running means I won't get a parking fine."

Truth: Traffic wardens can fine you for parking somewhere illegally, whether your engine is running or not.

Myth 3

"Isn’t it better to idle because stopping and starting the engine will wear it out?"

Truth: No, because this is no longer true for modern engines.

Myth 4

"Surely idling doesn't contribute very much to air pollution in the grand scheme of things?"

Truth: Research has shown that switching off engines when parked can reduce air pollution levels in the street where the vehicles are parked.

Updated: 18 October 2023

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