The Hailey City Council unanimously passed an engine-idling ordinance Monday evening, prohibiting drivers from leaving their engines running for over three minutes while parked in public or guest spots within city limits.
The ordinance—largely spearheaded by Mayor Martha Burke—was previously adopted by the city of Ketchum in 2011. Burke introduced the law at an earlier meeting in September, where it received strong council backing.
“The goal of this is to limit idling in the commercial area of town, where you have citizens running into the post office and leaving the car running,” Burke said Monday. “It’s to remind people that we are better off when we turn our cars off.”
While violating the ordnance is technically punishable by a fine of up to $100, City Attorney Chris Simms said the law will be primarily educational.
“It’s my understanding that the city does not intend to instruct [Hailey Police Chief Steve England] to fine people,” he said.
The ordinance applies to all vehicles operating on public property or private lots that allow public or guest parking. Drivers are exempt when stopped at traffic lights, construction zones and railroad crossings, while performing engine checks or while performing safety or emergency actions—defrosting a car in the winter or using jumper cables to recharge a battery, for example.
Public safety and emergency vehicles are also exempt from the ordinance.
Council President Kaz Thea expressed ardent support for the new law on Monday and called it a “simple ask.”
“I’ve personally witnessed lots of drivers idling. I find it offensive—it’s like someone smoking right in front of you,” she said. “As citizens, it’s our responsibility to be conscious of our decisions.”
Council members Juan Martinez and Heidi Husbands agreed. Both remarked that they had recently observed several residents idling downtown along Carbonate Street.
“It’s absolutely amazing how many people will jump out of their car and run into Java for coffee, [idling] for five, 10 minutes,” Husbands said. “Some might not even think about it or remember their car is on. This is one step that we can take.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, personal vehicles generate around 30 million tons of smog-producing carbon dioxide every year just by idling.
“For saving fuel and reducing emissions, eliminating the unnecessary idling of personal vehicles would be the same as taking 5 million vehicles off the roads,” the department states on its website.
Idling can also be detrimental to the average engine, Thea said.
Per U.S. Department of Energy recommendations, drivers should turn off their engines when stopped for 10 seconds or more except while in traffic. Drive-throughs are one major source of prolonged idling, it said.