AS TEMPERATURES plummet across the UK, drivers have been warned that they may face a £40 penalty for idling their cars to defrost windscreens.
Andrew Marshall, from car finance group CarMoney, has pointed out that engine idling is illegal under Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and that rule 123 of the Highway Code states: “You must not leave a vehicle’s engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.”
Motorists found in breach of the law could see themselves saddled with a fixed penalty notice of £20 or, if not paid within 28 days, a penalty of double that. Charges within London can be stricter still, with local by-laws stipulating that drivers caught idling their cars on a public highway can be issued with a Penalty Charge Notice of £40 to be paid within 14 days, rising to £80 if not settled within that two-week period.
Idling while stuck in traffic generally falls outside the definition of “unnecessary”, though, as the depths of winter approach, motorists found running their cars to defrost their windscreens and to warm up their interiors are considered to be in breach of the rules if they refuse to switch off their engines when instructed to do so by an officer of the law.
It is also illegal to leave a vehicle unattended with the engine running in a public place, so motorists leaving their cars to idle while they go back into their houses are falling foul of the Highway Code on two counts. They also run the risk of their cars being stolen by an unscrupulous passer-by.
While it should be said that these laws only apply on public roads — not, for example, when a car is parked in someone’s driveway — that doesn’t mean that idling a car to defrost the windscreen is the right thing to do.
Cars left idling, particularly in cold weather, emit higher levels of harmful fumes such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide than those that are driven immediately, and thereby brought up to temperature more quickly. Idling engines are a major contributor to local air pollution, which, according to the Royal College of Surgeons results in around 40,000 deaths in the UK annually.
The potential impact of poor air quality from idling engines on children’s health has led to calls from many groups for a ban on idling outside schools, though in theory the existing laws on idling in public also cover that. Advocacy groups say that more enforcement is needed.
“Now more than ever it is important to be aware of our impact on the environment,” Marshall said. “By minimising car idling on our daily commutes, school drop-offs and simply waiting in traffic, we can contribute less CO2 emissions.”
Rather than leaving their cars idling, drivers without garages who need to park their cars outdoors overnight in winter should invest in a can of de-icing spray and a window scraper. Alternatively, a jug or kettle filled with barely lukewarm water will suffice, though be warned: if the water is too hot the thermal shock may crack the windscreen.
It’s also important to clear the inside of the windows of condensation as it can impact visibility and make it dangerous to drive. Rule 229 of the Highway Code says “you MUST be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows.” Any rule that uses the word “MUST” indicates it is law. A cloth or sponge to clear the moisture is useful and the dehumidifying effect of running the car’s air conditioning while driving will help to clear additional excess moisture.
- If you found drivers can be fined £40 for leaving their cars idling to defrost windscreens interesting, you may want to read our guide on how to drive in snow safely
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