A recently-passed ordinance in the City of Madison limits the length of time that drivers can keep a vehicle’s engine running while it is parked on public and private property, with exceptions. The limit is set at five minutes. The “driving factors” for this ordinance, as stated in the article, are the environmental and health impacts from car exhaust. While I understand the desire of local elected officials to create a healthier environment by reducing emissions, I believe that the passage of such ordinance will not bring about any significant benefit and would create unnecessary enforcement burdens on public officials.
As the news article states, the City of Madison already had ordinance restricting idling (prior to the passage of this ordinance) – 15-minute idling limit for large trucks and buses in certain areas. The new ordinance would apply to all motor vehicles and set a 5-minute standard. The first offense would result in a fine of $100, and going up to $600 for repeated violations within a designated timeframe.
As a society, we have made great progress in limiting pollution. Strong emission standards, greater fuel efficiency, and such have all contributed to the improvement. An ordinance such as the one passed by City of Madison’s Common Council would likely not bring about any further significant reduction in emissions.
The success of an ordinance greatly depends on enforcement. Law enforcement resources are already engaged in addressing many public safety issues across the city. Recent spikes in number of homicides, among other crimes, consume more and more of law enforcement’s time and energy. Given such needs, implementation of this ordinance would further increase the workload of public officials, taking time away from more pressing problems. Furthermore, implementing this ordinance has the potential to increase the volume of law enforcement contacts with people for an issue that is nowhere close to being as harmful to society as felonies and misdemeanors or even serious traffic violations.
Captain Richard Bach of Madison Police Department said that “no tickets have been issued for excessive idling in the past year under the old standard.” In response to this new ordinance, he said that an enforcement protocol is being developed and also that tickets will be largely complaint driven. These suggest that while excessive idling has not been identified as a prevalent problem in Madison, law enforcement resources would still be deployed in developing protocols, hence creating an opportunity cost.
A conservative like myself believes in limited government. An ordinance such as the one passed by the City of Madison’s Common Council unnecessarily increases the role of government in people’s lives. Also, no rational individual would choose to unnecessarily burn fuel. Therefore I say, let people determine their needs. I believe that passing such an ordinance does very little (if anything at all) to reduce emissions. As a resident of Madison, I would request our local officials to work on addressing more urgent problems.