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Idle Free Ordinance Update: Keep Our Air Clean!

Salt Lake City is moving into a hot and already-record-breaking summer.

A warming climate makes air pollution worse – from increased wildfires to the formation of ground-level ozone.

As temperatures go up, so does ground-level ozone. This is the ozone that forms when emissions from our cars, lawnmowers, other sources of combustion, and certain chemical products react with sunlight and heat.

Ozone is damaging to our lungs and cardiovascular systems. It’s an invisible, odorless chemical, but being exposed to it is described like “receiving a sunburn on your lungs.”

That’s why it’s important for everyone to work together to reduce pollution. Check out the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s list of best practices for reducing ozone during these hot, sunny days.

One of the biggest ways to reduce air and ozone pollution is to drive less. Vehicle exhaust contributes a sizeable chunk of our ozone pollution.

And if you do have to drive? Remember to turn your engine off and be idle free when stopped in your vehicle (when not in traffic).

Excess vehicle exhaust threatens our air quality and the overall health of our communities. That’s why in 2011, Salt Lake City enacted one of the first Idle Free Ordinances in the state.

The Idle Free Ordinance prohibits unnecessary idling over two minutes within Salt Lake City limits. The ordinance prioritizes our community’s commitment to improving local air quality.

Idle Free Ordinance Update

Thanks to a 2019 state legislative change, Salt Lake City was able to update our 2011 Ordinance this year to better serve its purpose of limit idling in Salt Lake City. Specifically, the law (HB148) allows Salt Lake City to issue only one warning before issuing a ticket for idling. Previously, the city was required to issue three warnings.

Check out the 2021 formal ordinance adoption language here.

The idling time limit will stay the same: unnecessary idling for more than two minutes is prohibited.

Some idling, of course, is necessary. For example, when stopped for an official traffic control device or signal, or if you the health and safety of a driver or passenger (including service animals) requires it. However, in ordinary driving situations, lengthy stops are generally limited, and when you do make a stop, remember to turn the key and be idle free!

You can read the full ordinance on the SLCgreen website.

Image of Idle Free sign. The teal bordered sign says "Idle Free City City Ordinance 12.58.030" at the top with a Salt Lake City logo at left. In the middle of the sign is a graphic of an idling car that is enclosed by a red circle with a slash through the middle. Black text at the bottom reads "Turn your key. be idle free!" Under that, in a teal banner and lime green text reads "2 Minute Time Limit" and finally, in black text on white at the bottom "It's Our Health, and the Law."

Idle Free Resources

Check out our website for more Idle Free Resources, including information on how to report an idling vehicle.

There are still limitations to reporting: A Salt Lake City compliance officer must witness the idling and we cannot enforce the ordinance on residential private property.

However, we’re grateful for the enhanced capabilities that the new ordinance provides.

Above all else, this ordinance is an important way to communicate best practices regarding our air quality and environment.

Why Be Idle Free?

Avoiding unnecessary idling can make a big difference for our airshed. Ten seconds of idling creates more pollution than turning your car off and restarting it.

It is a common myth that idling your car is good for the engine. However, idling can actually damage your car, wasting fuel and money at the same time. Moreover, idling is detrimental to your health and the health of those around you.

Nitrogen oxides (NO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are all emitted by vehicles. In the summer, emissions from cars react with sunlight and heat causing increased ozone in our air, too. These pollutants can harm our respiratory systems and ultimately can damage our brains, hearts, lungs, and other organs. And while it may come as a surprise, because idling cars aren’t as warm as a driving car, the pollutants don’t break down as quickly and idling can make the pollution even worse.

Air quality is important no matter where we are – outdoors, in our homes, and in our cars. That’s all the more reason to limit activities that contribute to bad air. Luckily, being idle free is pretty easy!

And on top of other actions like walking, taking public transit, biking, using electric lawn equipment, avoiding wood burning, and using low-VOC chemicals, being idle free will help make a difference for our air this summer.

If you are a business owner who does not yet have an Idle Free sign, please reach out to us at slcgreen@slcgov.com

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