Road to nowehere

Clean air?Clean air?

Local resident Alison Wells makes a request to the drivers of Wanstead, and if we all take note, it will make the air we breathe both inside and outside our cars a little bit cleaner.

In recent weeks, in and around Wanstead, I have noticed a lot of people sitting in parked cars with the engines running. This seemed to me to be causing a lot of air pollution and so I decided to do some research and take action.

Heart in mouth, I now go up to these people and ask them, very nicely, to consider turning off their engines, explaining I am concerned about air pollution affecting us all, but in particular, children and older people. So far, I've asked 12 people to switch off their engines and everyone has agreed to do so, and I haven't encountered any aggression, so thank you to you all for being so nice about it!

It is known as idling, and here are some facts and figures I hope will persuade everyone that this is a bad practice.

One of the biggest idling myths is that it's more efficient to leave a car engine running for a few minutes than to shut it off and turn it back on again. The truth is that with modern (post mid-1980s) fuel-injection technology, starting a car requires almost no fuel.

Leaving an engine idling is also an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The act enforces rule 123 of the Highway Code, which states: "You must not leave a vehicle's engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road." You are liable for a £20 fine if you don't turn off your engine when requested.

An idling engine can produce up to twice the emissions of a car in motion. These include chemicals such as sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide, to name a few. All of these contribute to asthma, heart disease and even lung cancer. In particular, children are at risk of dangerous levels of air pollution from cars because exposure to toxic air is often far higher inside than outside vehicles. Yes, inside the cars, not outside. So, if you are idling and your children are in the back seat, they are breathing more polluted air than if they were walking outside, according to government advisers. The Royal College of Physicians estimates 40,000 deaths a year in the UK are linked to air pollution, with engine idling contributing to this.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has made recommendations for improving road-traffic-related air pollution. As part of this, NICE is encouraging authorities to raise awareness and crack down on idling, which may lead to 'No Idling Zones', where authorised individuals such as traffic enforcement officers monitor vehicles around schools or busy shopping areas.

According to the RAC, research shows 23% of all car journeys are two miles or under, so consider whether you really need to drive at all. If you do use your car, then please switch off your engine when you're waiting.

For more information on the impact of air pollution, visit

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