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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

As Public Health England call for a ban on cars idling their engines near schools and hospitals with the introduction of "no-idling zones", part of a raft of measures to combat air pollution, George Monbiot points out that; 

"Cars are already banned from idling, under the 2002 Road Traffic Regulations. The problem is a comprehensive failure of enforcement. A couple of fines outside each school gate would radically change attitudes. But where are police?"

Isn't it time for a crackdown on this with some sharp fines for the offending drivers? My bet is that some drivers don't even know that it is illegal so how about a big publicity campaign too?

Tags for Forum Posts: air pollution, nature notes

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It is indeed illegal and, as GM points out, has been for many years but once again it’s a law that is never enforced. It’s common to come across cars parked around here with their engines running pointlessly while the driver sits there doing nothing. What makes it so infuriating is that there is no reason at all (unless it’s very, very cold) to leave the engine running. So why not turn it off?

Speaking of enforcement, when do drivers using mobile phones ever get caught around here? There is absolutely no deterrent. The other day I had to cycle around a driver using a mobile phone while carrying out a three-point turn outside Gokyuzu - holding the phone to his ear with one hand and spinning the wheel with the other. No chance at all of the police catching him, and he couldn’t even hear me yelling at him because he was so busy yakking away!

I'm a bit scared by the number of drivers of large lorries that I see texting while driving.

Completely agree. 

Policing pollution is very expensive, with interventions difficult to evaluate for effectiveness. It's a market failure - the price of harm is not included in the cost of fuel.

I disagree that a couple of fines will change behaviour. This is not based on any contextual evidence. Changing behaviour through attitudes is proven to be a long, expensive and painful exercise. Furthermore, any policy change must be cost-effective. Nevertheless, I would admire any authority that would take any intervention forward, try or fail. 

I am working on a similar issue using technology and behavioural economics, with a focus on HGVs first. Some vehicles idle for 40% of their engine use!

I'd be happy to talk about ideas with some firm project ideas via PM. Our plan is to get this moving first (building tech needs funding, expertise and testing) and then to move into other road vehicles.

This is a really hard nut to crack. 

That's the perfect thing for an overstretched and under funded police force to be doing. Sod the knife crime and acid attacks and hand out ticked instead.

If the revenue raised/benefits is greater than the cost of policing, then it might be a winner. But there's no evidence to suggest it is! I agree, I can't see police enforcing this. 

If the police were allowed to keep fines you'd end up with the US justice system. Not really a place we want to go.

I didn't say that. Let's not jump to conclusions. What I am saying, understanding what works (and what doesn't), isn't just important - it's fundamental. 

I don’t disagree eSpy. Laws and zones are meaningless gestures if there is no enforcement. Police are being forced to choose what to prioritise due to cuts.

Yet ignoring air pollution surely isn’t an option? Increasingly humans are living in towns and cities. Drifting into the kind of air pollution levels seen in Delhi, or Los Angeles just because we can’t make small changes to our behaviour seems a particularly stupid way to ruin our collective lives. 

It's a modern life problem. When I grew up it was usually 1 parent working and the other stayed at home to look after the children, there wasn't the rush for both parents to get to work. More people walked to school as a result. Is pollution a problem that is in part down to the broken housing market that means both parents have to work?

Hi Liz, I know you were addressing eyespy, but I'd like to correct while I'm here.

1) There are plenty of laws that are not enforced. Creating a social norm is what I think George alludes to. 

2) I don't think ES said ignoring air pollution. He/she was talking about policing. 

3) Air pollution is a combination of many factors. 

4) People are irrational. Shaving off 20mins in the morning, when it's raining outside is an improvement in personal utility. Assuming people will care as much as everyone else is a thorny path.

Regulation is one tool. IMO there are much better ways for this specific problem than the blunt and sometimes expensive instrument of policing. It's much easier to police wood burning stoves (use thermographic cameras and you can see all chimneys with warmer air :)

The second point I made which seems to have been missed is that I’m prepared to bet people are unaware that idling is both illegal and creating pollution. So creating campaigns that make this as socially unacceptable as say smoking in the presence of children *may* change all but the most hardened of engine idlers. I still say some enforcement is needed. We do have a section of the police responsible for enforcing traffic laws, so a little recognition that this has been illegal for 17 years isn’t too much to ask. 

As a veteran of anti-litter campaigns I know that you won’t change everyone’s behaviour and may even antagonise a few into getting worse. A few years ago following a high profile court case by Haringey prosecuting someone who had dropped a cig butt and then ignored the fines saw people giving the exact same “waste of time and resources” arguments. Even though we know that cigarette litter is highly toxic to aquatic life, people don’t equate the “dropped in the gutter” cig end with the devastation being wrought on the oceans. In the same way, people leaving their engines running for “just a minute” don’t equate that with increased problems that modern children have with asthma. I get it, I really do. We can all rationalise our poor decisions. 

I believe Tim Morton has written about this in Being Ecological i.e until we see ourselves as part of the natural world instead of outside it and part of the great cycles of energy exchange that constitute life on the planet we will not recognise that if our actions disrupt these cycles too much we endanger our very existence. 



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