Do Yourself A Favor: ‘Turn Your Key, Be Idle Free!’

Brinley Wilson, Utah Clean Cities

What Is Idling? 

Idling is running a vehicle’s propulsion engine when the vehicle isn’t moving. While idling can be difficult to avoid or even necessary for some vehicles, such as to provide a source of power for primarily on-duty police vehicles or semi-truck drivers, most idling is wasteful and avoidable. 


Who Cares? We Do and So Should You!  

You may be wondering why the minimal act of turning your key to be idle free matters. Simply put, idling threatens environmental and community health, causes engine wear leading to unnecessary expenses, produces significant pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is sometimes unlawful. 

While you might think that idling in the carpool line, at the drive-thru window or in your driveway during a harsh winter’s day can’t do much harm and is rather advantageous for your vehicle, you are sorely mistaken. 

Idling often occurs in small moments, but let us imagine the cumulative impact of idling. Consider that idling in the U.S. uses more than 6 billion gallons of fuel at a cost of more than $20 billion to consumers and businesses per year.

According to Argonne National Laboratory research: 

  • Idling vehicles use more fuel than does restarting your car
  • Restarting your vehicle will not wear out the started
  • Idling your vehicle wastes about 0.3 gal/h and a large truck about 1 gal/h. 
  • Each gallon of fuel burned emits about 20 lb. of carbon dioxide
  • Idling is illegal in some areas and can result in substantial fines


The Winter Myth 

One of the most circulated myths about idling is that you must warm your vehicle engine before driving it. The truth is that on cold winter days, an engine can circulate oil throughout the engine in 30 seconds, and excessive idling can actually lead to damage to either the engine or exhaust system. 

The Department of Energy says, “Avoid idling. Think about it — idling gets you 0 miles per gallon. The best way to warm up a vehicle is to drive it. No more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days is needed. Anything more simply wastes fuel and increases emissions.”

Furthermore, the EPA states that “When a car idles for more than 30 seconds, it has several negative effects, such as increasing air pollution unnecessarily, wasting fuel and money, and causing excessive wear or even damaging a car’s engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and the exhaust system. Contrary to popular belief, idling isn’t an effective way to warm up most car engines. Today’s automobile manufacturers recommend driving off right away and urge that drivers wait no more than 30 seconds to begin driving, even on the coldest days.”


Idling Impacts Community Health 

As mentioned, each gallon of fuel burned emits about 20 lbs. of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Moreover, tailpipe emissions contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. This pollution produces adverse effects on our health and environment. And since children are closer to the tailpipe, have a faster breathing rate and have developing lungs, they are more vulnerable to pollution than adults. This can lead to a development in health complications throughout a child’s life. When you choose to “Turn Your Key, Be Idle Free,’ you choose to help children breathe easier and cleaner air.


Location, Location, Location

Depending on your location, vehicle type/weight, fuel type and outside temperature, idling may be illegal. 

In Utah, vehicle exhaust makes up over 50% of the air pollution. The unnecessary idling of cars and buses contribute a significant amount of emissions released into the air each day.

Salt Lake City’s Idle Free Ordinance prohibits unnecessary vehicle idling over two minutes within city limits. The ordinance is enforceable on public property and private property open to the public (i.e. drive-through windows and parking lots). Three warnings will be issued before any fines are levied. Once a fine is issued, the traditional parking fee structure applies:

  • Paid in less than 10 days – $15
  • 11 to 20 days – $55
  • 21 to 30 days – $85
  • 31 to 40 days – $125

Exemptions to the city’s Idle Free Ordinance can be found at slc.gov. 

Utah Clean Cities wants to encourage and educate communities on what the individual can do about idling. 

We highly recommend being aware and educating other drivers about the effects of idling. 

If you find yourself in an unmoving vehicle, be sure to turn the engine off, and when possible, use waiting rooms at depots and assembly areas instead of idling. 

Engage with community leaders and members by advocating for an idling reduction policy, ask drivers to pledge to reduce idling, host an idling reduction workshop or driver training sessions and provide material to the community as a reminder not to idle. Idle Free materials including Idle Free packets, brochures, posters, cards and stickers are provided by UCC, available here.

CNG fuels Utah’s disposal services, saves on fuel costs

ACE Recycling and Disposal is one of the largest independent waste haulers in the western United States and has become known as a leader in cutting-edge green technologies.

In 2008, the company adopted alternative fuels and now has a fleet of 194 vehicles, 99 of which are heavy-duty, compressing natural gas (CNG) refuse haulers. In addition to implementing the use of alternative fuels, ACE has improved recycling programs along the Wasatch Front, adopted geothermal energy systems and powers its West Valley Headquarters with solar panels.


ACE completed the grant applications process independently but leveraged Utah Clean Cities Coalition (UCCC) to push legislation to cut company costs and reduce emissions through the adoption of CNGs. To achieve this, UCCC and the state of Utah provided ACE with tax grants for a combined total of $35,000 in tax credits per truck. Over 50% of the company’s fleet is now composed of CNG trucks, and they are continuing to integrate more CNG vehicles as they expand.

ACE started with a small CNG fleet that fueled at a public gas station. The largest initial struggles came with tank sizing and higher public fuelling costs.

Two years later, ACE constructed its first private fueling station which greatly reduced fuelling costs. However, there was not a set OEM standard for how to implement CNG, whereas today there are standardized protocols. This was an obstacle until 2013 when there was a huge break in the technology barrier with the development of high-quality fuel systems. This was a huge milestone in ACE’s success, leading to even greater fuel savings and a highly feasible project.

“Our business is based upon cleaning up our environment—the methods we choose to achieve this need to align with our purpose,” said Matt Stalsberg, ACE owner and general manager. “Our commitment to clean fuel technologies reduces our environmental impact, provides the best value for our communities, and tells Utah we believe in responsible business. Today, CNG is a clean fuel that trucking companies in our region can choose, and we’re excited to see what the future of clean energy holds.”


When asked about the cost savings, Stalsberg stated that it was a “no brainer” when you look at the net savings with the increased investment. The trucks cost more, but the return on investment (ROI) is three to four years for an eight-year truck.

The addition of their own station saved ACE substantially more when they started to buy gas in bulk. There are also significant tax credit savings to compressing your own gas with your own station.


One of the greatest obstacles with adopting CNG reported by Stalsberg was the learning curve of alternative fuel technology and common misconceptions about the fuel.

Training was conducted by a shop member with a certification (CNG-FSI) to work on CNG trucks which allowed for a better understanding of the technology. Following the training, the ACE team noted that it made them pioneers in safely utilizing CNG.

About 50 firefighters from across Utah met at the ACE headquarters for training on the effective implementation of CNG technology.

ACE even created its own CNG mechanical safety video to address some of the common misconceptions around this alternative fuel.

Implementing CNG technology also meant retro-fitting the mechanics’ workshop due to the different shop standards for CNG. Overall, the retro-fitting took approximately two weeks to complete and cost around $100,000.

ACE also noted that the changes and safety protocols were ultra-conservative and created a safer shop overall for greater peace of mind for their employees.

Since the first private CNG fuelling station was constructed at the company headquarters in 2010, two more private stations in Clearfield and West Jordan have been added.


In summary, adopting CNG allowed ACE to achieve the projected economic savings by reducing fuel costs by 50%. After utilizing private stations in the first few years, after CNG integration, ACE was able to install three of its own facilities with CNG fueling capabilities.

This resulted in a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions- nearly 2,440 tons over a five year period — the equivalent to reducing the amount of emissions from driving an average passenger vehicle 5.3 million miles. Additionally, a 2.5 million gallon gasoline equivalent (GGE) reduction has been achieved which is equivalent to reducing the amount of emissions from 4,690 passenger vehicles driven over a one year period. Aside from decreasing emissions and cutting capital costs, ACE has seen added benefits with customers.

“We are now viewed as more than just a garbage hauler, from customers to our peers, we hear about how great our fleet is,” said Mercedes Anto, ACE sustainability director.

Moving forward, ACE’s goal is to have a fleet composed of 90% CNG trucks. The company has also expressed interest in the adoption of electric refuse haulers as the technology is refined.

Their advice to any fleet manager who is looking to adopt CNG is that the varying national price may make it more feasible in certain locations. When it is feasible, it not only leads to significant cost savings but, as the ACE team has experienced, this leadership increases company leadership in green technology and alternative fuels.

Utah Clean Cities celebrates Idle Free Awareness Month

Join Utah Clean Cities Coalition & Utah Clean Air partners for the 13th Annual Governor’s Declaration Turn Your Key, Be Idle Free Month and Season 2020-21!

This virtual event took place on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.

Click on the above image to view Utah Clean Cities’ webinar.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. David Christensen, UCC Board of Trustees Chair, ASPIRE
  • Tammie Bostick, Executive Director, Utah Clean Cities
  • Scott Baird, Executive Director, Department of Environmental Quality
  • Thom Carter, Executive Director, UCAIR, Utah Clean Air Partnership
  • Jack Hedge, Executive Director, Utah Inland Port Authority
  • Dr. Kerry Kelly, Assistant Professor, University of Utah

TECH TALK: Lion Electric Truck and Buses

Join us on October 7, 2020, at 10 p.m. MST for a live demo and factory tour of our all-electric products and learn how the Lion Team can help introduce zero-emission vehicles to your fleet.

Demo will cover:

  • Overview of Lion Electric
  • How and why to go all-electric
  • Live Demo
  • Factory Tour
  • Charging Infrastructure
  • Service and Training
  • Assistance with upcoming RAQC funding
  • Q&A – get all your questions answered

The Importance of Life Cycle Assessment in Evaluating the Environmental Performance of Future EVs

Most current policies encouraging the adoption of zero-emission vehicles focus on emissions from vehicle operation only, omitting significant contributions from vehicle production and other parts of the vehicle and energy life cycle. As EVs become more efficient, low-carbon electricity becomes more common, and the size of the global EV fleet increases, emissions from production and other non-operation parts of the life cycle become increasingly important. This webinar will present research on the impact of excluding life cycle emissions from ZEV policies.


Alissa Kendall, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Davis

Guest Respondent

Hanjiro Ambrose, Hitz Family Climate Fellow for the Clean Transportation Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

Is Hydrogen a Viable Truck Fuel?

This webinar is part of a 3-part webinar series. Visit here to watch webinar 2, and visit here to watch webinar 3.

Watch this recorded webinar to gain insight into:

  • The state of heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell vehicles today and their future outlook
  • When fuel cell trucks will be in production and available to purchase
  • The differences between hydrogen and electric infrastructure

Get Ready to Charge: Designing and Installing Charging Stations that Support Medium- and Heavy-duty EVs

Designing and installing charging infrastructure to support your fleet’s short- and long-term vehicle deployments is one of the most critical steps in the transition to electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Working with your utility early on in the electrification process streamlines the installation process and can ensure that both the utility-side and customer-side infrastructure are optimized and compatible with your unique operations, while mitigating costly project delays.

Watch this webinar recording to gain insight into:

  • Planning for near-term and long-term site upgrades to support EV deployments
  • Common infrastructure design issues to avoid that may result in delays or added costs
  • How two fleets in Southern California Edison’s territory worked with the utility and electrical contractors to successfully install EV charging infrastructure

Simon Horton

Senior Project Manager, Transportation Electrification

Southern California Edison

Andrew Papson

Andrew Papson

Advisor, eMobility

Southern California Edison

Mike Barnes, Penske

Mike Barnes

Senior Regional Facilities Manager

Penske Transportation Solutions

Natalia Swalnick

Natalia Swalnick

Senior Director

Electrification Coalition

Patrick Couch

Senior VP, Technical Services


Understanding Biodiesel’s Life Cycle Environmental Impact and New Indirect Land Use Science

You may already know that biodiesel is good for the environment, but transparent, reliable science reinforcing its benefits will help ensure its rightful place in the American energy landscape. A new study on biodiesel’s lifecycle energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions updates and reaffirms the long-understood benefits of using the renewable fuel. The report, recently published by collaboration between Argonne National Laboratory, Purdue University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, represents the most up-to-date and comprehensive lifecycle analysis of biodiesel ever produced.

The lifecycle assessment of biodiesel includes indirect land use change (ILUC), the theory which suggests that economic benefits from renewable fuels impact farming patterns globally. In this webinar, you’ll hear the facts from leading scientists, supporting why biodiesel has the highest GHG reduction of any heavy-duty transportation fuel, and how it reflects biodiesel’s natural ability to store solar energy in a liquid form.


Don Scott, National Biodiesel Board Director of Sustainability

Farzad Taheripour, Purdue Agricultural Economics Research Associate

Professor Jeongwoo Han, Argonne National Laboratory Energy Systems Analyst

Zhangcai Qin, Argonne National Laboratory Assistant Scientist

The world has an idling problem — Utah researchers are trying to fix it

A girl is dropped off next to a sign reminding people to turn off their vehicles while they’re parked. – Vincent Horiuchi

SALT LAKE CITY — In the middle of a historically active wildfire season — where large amounts of carbon dioxide, brown and black carbon and ozone are pouring into the atmosphere — the Utah Clean Cities Coalition wants to remind people that there is something they can do to help keep the air clean.

And it only takes a few seconds.

Turning off the ignition of an idle car is a simple act with potentially large benefits, said Tammie Bostick, the executive director of the coalition. It is a message she hopes to share, particularly in the month of September, which marks the 13th anniversary of the Idle Free Declaration issued by the Utah governor.

The document acknowledges the hazards of idling and applauds Utahns’ efforts to curtail the practice. Still, idling remains a prominent issue worldwide.

Six billion gallons of fuel are wasted each year due to vehicle idling, and personal vehicles release around 30 million tons of carbon dioxide while doing so, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“On average, people spend about 7% of their time idling,” said Kerry Kelly, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Utah. “And the other thing that is not good about idling is that it wastes fuel, one, and then, two, your car’s emission control system does not work optimally while it’s idling.”

To draw attention to the issue, more than 70 Utah mayors have signed their support of idle-free practices, and 10 Utah cities have idle free ordinances.

A local research team — of which Kelly is a part — is going even further to stop the practice.

A novel idea gains funding

The real-time speed limit displays — the ones that tell people how fast they’re going — are effective, according to researchers, but probably not for the reasons most think.

“One of the major reasons is they show you that you’re speeding in a way that others can see you’re being shown that you’re speeding, so it’s a violation of what’s called social norm,” Kelly said. “In my terms, it is maybe a little bit of peer pressure to make good choices.”

The signs started Kelly thinking, along with her fellow researcher Gregory Madden, a USU professor in the psychology department. What if they were to do something similar for idling?

Idle free campaigns have existed for years and adding a dynamic component to try and change people’s behavior is an exciting new possibility, previously not possible due to a lack of technology. If the scientists’ hypothesis is correct, and these signs produce results similar to those of dynamic speed signs, they could have a lasting impact.

“Long-term studies of those signs have looked at, you know, to what extent do they reduce accidents and reduce speeding and those kinds of things,” Madden said. “And the effect seems to last as long as those signs are up. So it’s not just a little temporary effect that people realize, ‘Hey, I’m not going to get a ticket here, and therefore I can start speeding again.’ It doesn’t work that way. It really does produce a long-term effect.”

So the pair began to plan out what analogous but adapted signs might look like, and their research group recently received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help fund the project.

The researchers will start small, engineering four signs that will be installed in hospitals’ and schools’ parking lots in both Cache and Salt Lake counties for the pilot program. They picked the spots intentionally, to help protect some of the most vulnerable people in society, Kelly said.

Children stand closer in height to tailpipes than adults, which leaves them more susceptible to pollution from the exhausts of cars. Children’s breathing rates are also generally higher than those of adults.

As a bonus, Kelly hopes that students at schools where signs are implemented can get involved in taking readings from the pollution sensors and helping analyze the data, thus giving them a taste of STEM work.

As for hospitals, patients often leave in wheelchairs — which, again, leaves them closer to tailpipes — and some are also compromised in ways that make them more susceptible to pollution, Kelly said.

The signs themselves will consist of a package of sensors that will monitor pollutants such as ozone, particulate matter, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. When pollutants in a certain area reach dangerous levels, the displays will warn drivers to turn off their vehicles.

The team will have to factor weather into readings too, as they don’t want a stray gust of wind to throw off results and make it seem like there’s less idling than there actually is.

The researchers also plan to implement a thermal imaging technology that will allow them to count the number of idling cars in a given space.

“The challenge is to get good quality, low-cost sensors,” Kelly said. The team is planning to use sensors developed by the University of Utah, and Kelly anticipates each costing between $300-500.

The LED displays will be the most expensive part of the operation. Each costs around $5,000.

The team hopes to develop signs that are portable, so they could be moved to areas where large amounts of idling are expected. Kelly also hopes that school LEDs could be rigged to display idling warnings during drop-off and pickup times.

“There have been a lot of anti-idling campaigns and a lot of messaging, but I’m not aware of anyone ever attempting to do this type of dynamic feedback,” Kelly said.

The signs are still being engineered, which will take months, according to Kelly, but their eventual impact could extend much further than just a couple schools and hospitals.

“It’s really important for your health, the health of your community and especially the health of vulnerable people that are in the area of folks are idling. It is really important for worker health and safety,” she said.

Already, Madden — who has researched behavioral economics for years — is crafting messages for the displays that he believes will cause people to turn their parked cars off.

“Is it going to solve all the pollution problems in Salt Lake City? Unfortunately, no, it is not,” he said. “But is it going to make a significant dent for vulnerable populations, this project? Yeah, I think we can probably do that. I’m real optimistic about our chances with this project.”

A bad reputation

The Beehive State’s reputation for poor air quality is due to a few primary factors, Kelly said. First is wintertime air pollution that gets trapped in Utah’s valleys, underneath layers of warm air that act as a lid and lead to build up of fine particulate matter.

“That is kind of what we are known for in terms of bad air quality,” Kelly said.

Utah also has elevated levels of ozone during the summer months because of its warm temperatures and elevation. The Uinta Basin experiences increased levels of ozone in the winter as well, precipitated by stagnant air and emissions. Like fine particulate matter, high levels of ozone can harm health.

“It is sort of like sunburning your lungs,” Kelly said. “And so if you couple something like ozone with elevated levels of particulate matter, that is kind of a double-whammy in terms of your health.”

Wildfire smoke in the summer months only exacerbates Utah’s air quality problems. The state is downwind of California and has wildfires of its own to combat.

“Combustion is a big source of particulate matter, and particulate matter is one of the key drivers of adverse health effects. Probably thousands of studies have linked elevated levels of fine particulate matter to increases in heart attack, lung disease, premature death,” Kelly said. “When you’re combusting a solid material, like wood, and you’re doing it in a pretty inefficient way, like burning forests, you’re going to generate a lot of particulate matter and a lot of volatile organic compounds.”

13th Annual Governor Declaration for Idle Free in Utah September 2020 and the 2020-2021 Winter Season

Date: Tuesday, September 8th

Time of the event: 11:00 a.m. – Noon

Location: Virtual Event

Website: utahcleancities.org/event/13th-annual-governors-declaration-idle-free-month-season-2020-21/


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 4th, 2020

Thirteenth Annual Governor’s Idle Free Declaration

September marks the 13th Annual Governor Declaration for Idle Free in Utah September 2020 and the 2020-2021 Winter Season in Utah. The Governor’s Declaration is currently signed by 76 Utah Mayors who represent more than ¾ of the state’s population. The highly anticipated event will be held on Tuesday, September 8 from 11:00 a.m. to noon via a virtual webinar.  Key leaders and advocates for in the Idle Free will share their stories, work and support of this unique Utah campaign for clean air and zero emissions

Over the past thirteen years, the Idle Free Education programs continue to grow and are supported by Utah Clean Cities, UCAIR, Breathe Utah, Utah Society for Environmental Education and the State Health Department’s Asthma Program and Recess Guide.  To date, these grass-roots programs have directly reached more than 15,000 students, and growing, across 425 schools.

“You know you are reaching a tipping point when nearly every school child in Utah is passionate about idle-free. These young stewards have taken the original message and made it into curbside campaigns through art, song, poetry, personal narrative and life-long commitment to clean air,” noted Tammie Bostick, Executive Director of Utah Clean Cities Coalition. Bostick added, “And to further our coalitions’ commitment to idle free, Utah Clean Cities is launching an innovative fleet program, Beyond Zero Green Fleets. This program can literally take the pollution solution to beyond zero emissions with carbon benefiting models”


Read more