Idling Vehicle Engines a Menace to Health & Environment, Warns Don

All too often I see cars, taxis, buses, and trucks with engines running, when they are parked and not moving on the roads. This is a very harmful and noxious habit not only to people’s health, but also extremely damaging to the environment. Scientific researchers have shown that vehicles emit greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) which are causing global warming. Furthermore, when a vehicle is not moving, the amount of GHGs emitted doubles. Transportation worldwide alone is producing way more GHGs than any other sources. The heat generated by the running engine along with the odour of burning fuel is a health hazard for all especially young children and the elderly.

Recently, the cover story in the New Straits Times (February 23, 2015) entitled “Blazing Threat” reported that Malaysia is going to get much hotter this year during the month of April. Such abnormal weather, the experts warned will affect people’s health, causing severe physical stress with fatal consequences. The article further elaborated very serious consequences for ecosystems and agricultural crops, safe water supply would be affected, and an increase in cases of water-borne and food-borne diseases, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and so forth.
Research has shown that 50% of all emissions to the air come from driving a vehicle. And, it is also a fact that when an engine is ‘idling’ meaning a vehicle whose engine is running but it isn’t moving, the emissions are doubled. Malaysia, with its fast-pace development and growing economy must brace the challenge of congested traffic and drivers wasteful habits need to be addressed.
Within the beautiful campus of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai, I witness students, workers, and others idling their vehicle engines for several minutes while the vehicle is parked. I wonder if they really know or understand the consequences of that unnecessary practice. This should be and must be avoided for reasons given above. It is shameful that the educated elite are indulging in it when they are supposed to know better.
In traffic jams, cars idling for long hours produce a lot of heat as well. Moreover, the fine particulate matter coming from the exhaust fumes is sucked inside the vehicles when they are lined up one behind the other. Passengers breathe the dangerous fumes for hours. Scientific research has proven that fumes inside the idling vehicles in a traffic jam, are more concentrated than in the outside air. Children and the elderly are even more at risk of developing respiratory problems. Young children breathe twice as fast as adults do, which means their young bodies are taking in twice as many harmful pollutants.
Climate Change is happening and humankind is responsible to a great extent, according to world environmentalists and scientists. The occurrence of severe weather-related events (Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines, Hurricane Sandy in the United States, etc.) and the steady rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (398ppm; are undeniable facts. Hence we must take these warnings very seriously! Our only planet is quickly approaching its tipping point and the world seems to be delaying the dire urgent actions needed to stop pumping CO2 and other dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere.
Each one of us must make every effort to reduce the impact of climate change, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and safeguard the future of our only habitable planet. We owe it to our future generations as well as the present. When we burn less gasoline, we need less oil. When we use less oil or fossil fuels we reduce global warming emissions, improve the quality of air we breathe, and protect public health, most importantly our young children. Undeniably, people will spend less for gasoline and save money too.This kind of shift in drivers’ behavior requires compelling ways of public awareness, which would also force lawmakers to pass a bylaw against unnecessary idling.
Don’t let your vehicle idle for more than a minute. During start-up, your engine burns a little extra gasoline. But when your vehicle’s engine idles for more than a minute, it burns more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it.This advice comes from Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States (
While it is undoubtedly true that the most effective measure to control unnecessary idling of vehicles should come from governments and relevant agencies, one must not overlook the sheer practicality of raising citizen’s awareness for their role in curbing GHG emissions. With the 45th Earth Day approaching on April 22nd, perhaps the students of UTM can take a bold initiative to curb their own idling habit, as well as raise public awareness about this issue. There are several cities of the world which have anti-idling bylaws in place. Citizens can urge their governments and car-manufacturing companies to build more fuel-efficient vehicles sooner than later. Each and every one of us inhabiting the Earth must share the responsibility of reducing our carbon footprint to save our planet from further peril and doom.
The general public will only be willing to tackle climate change if they understand its relevance. Since most people believe it is a problem for tomorrow they are less inclined to do anything about it. By showing people how it will affect them and what they can get out of being more conscious of their carbon footprint, and by being more energy efficient,the government at different levelscan succeed in getting them to take on a much more active role in making a difference.

Prof. Jahangir Mirza
Prof. Jahangir Mirza

Professor Jahangir Mirza
UTM-Construction Centre
Institute of Smart Infrastructures and Innovative Construction (ISIIC)
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
81310 Skudai, Johor Bharu
Johor, Malaysia
Tel: 010-8203240