Idle Threat

The Environmental Defense Fund website has some myth-busting facts about idling. Did you know idling for ten seconds burns more gas than restarting your car? Or that diesel engines produce more than 40 hazardous air pollutants? And that sitting in a cloud of your own exhaust with the heater on is really lousy for your health?

I’ve noticed a string of egregious idlers lately. The first was a young woman tapping away at her iPhone in a posh SUV in a shopping center parking lot. Temperatures were mild, so it’s not like she was braving the elements or anything; it was just internal combustion for internal combustion’s sake, I guess. The following day, I witnessed a pickup truck belching putrid exhaust for at least 20 minutes outside a convenience store. In this case, it was cold out, and a woman was waiting in the truck for her companion in the store, but seriously. Go inside and warm yourself by the spinning hot dogs or something! Then, while staying at a motel out of town, I observed a tractor trailer idling in an empty lot from dusk until the next morning. It was cold and snowy, and my guess was that the truck driver opted to sleep in the truck with the heat on — spent fuel be damned! — instead of paying for a motel room. Which is frankly pretty sad, but also alarming if you’re not a fan of global warming or particulate matter in the air you breathe.

After this cartoon was published, someone involved in the production of a documentary about idling in NYC contacted me — it turns out “Idle Threat” is the name of their film. You can watch the trailer here.


  • Roger Felix

    Way to go! As a Prius owner, I try not to be self-righteous, but one thing that other carmakers could learn from is that when the Prius sits at a light for a few seconds, the gas engine just shuts down. No problem getting going again when the light turns green, either. If I were dictator, all cars would have to do this! Imagine how much better urban air would get.

  • Lawrence Frank

    idling in nyc longer than 3 minutes is illegal. Mike Bloomberg never enforced this law. I have seen empty cars running, people sleeping/eating/computing/staring into space in running cars EVERY DAY in nyc. drivers are offended or think you are a wacko if you say something when they are the wackos. it is very upsetting because it is stupid/illegal/harmful/selfish.

  • MT

    Endless anti-car rhetoric. Sure, excessive idling is stupid, but how about some anti-phone rhetoric instead? A ton of people (or so I’ve noticed) idle simply because they can’t wait two seconds to get inside a building to endlessly check their phones. Did you know that
    2/3 of Americans now own these smart phones. and that it allows law enforcement to track them at all times, and endless ads (including political ads) to stream into their view across
    the screen. And everyone winds up being obsessed with them..looking down at them instead of watching where they’re walking. The phones are a system to control the population, but of course you’re never going to address that. Instead, you yammer against cars, which at least provide people with some freedom of movement and commerce (trying riding a bike to a city in the next state and see how long that takes, let alone bringing merchandise along to sell).

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.