Just warming up: OH lawmaker seeks fines for people who leave cars idling

By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

COLD: Better pay attention to how long you idle your car in temperatures like these – it might be a crime in Ohio to idle too long.

People who warm their cars before driving off might want to think about buying a stopwatch. Leave the car going too long, and you could face fines.

If, that is, Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, gets his way.

Starting your car and letting it idle is a winter routine especially when, like Wednesday, morning temperatures across Ohio ranged from 8 to 13 degrees.

If temperatures exceed 20 degrees Fahrenheit, residents can run their cars just five minutes in a one-hour period, according to House Bill 458. If it’s 20 degrees or lower, people get an extra five minutes.

Exceed that allotted time, by even a second, and you could be charged with a minor misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $150 – and court costs.

Repeatedly commit the “crime” and your violation escalates to a fourth-degree misdemeanor, a maximum fine of $250 and up to 30 days in jail.

How did Foley determine five or 10 minutes?

“We looked at prior legislation that had been drafted years ago and averaged that with what many municipalities have drafted,” he said. “The bill is broadly written right now — it may be defined down.”

What if the temperature is 20 degrees and the wind is blowing at 15 mph? That results in a wind chill factor of six degrees, but the law doesn’t address wind chill. While Foley admits it’s something he’d be willing to discuss, his belief is that it’s easier to measure an absolute temperature, and he wants to keep the bill as simple as possible.

But what makes government the all-knowing arbiter of how long your car actually needs to warm up? Can any such bill encompass all the conditions Ohioans are likely to face throughout a year?

As many experts note, modern cars — those built after 1990 — don’t have a mechanical reason for warming an engine before driving. Most say gently driving the car is all that’s required, while idling before driving is bad for fuel economy and the environment.

The general consensus is idling the car is really more of a comfort factor, used to defrost windows or to allow the interior temperature to reach a point acceptable to the driver.

If that’s the case, why does a politician think he needs to regulate individual levels of comfort? How does he know that five minutes will get your car to your targeted temperature? What if you have kids in your car, and you want the interior temperature to be warmer?

Foley does make some exceptions in his bill for idling in traffic, idling during mechanical repairs or for a “personal health or safety reason, such as to maintain the ability of the operator to see outside the motor vehicle or to maintain an acceptable interior temperature.”

Doesn’t the last exemption pretty much negate the need for the law? Couldn’t anyone cited for idling their vehicle claim they were doing so to “maintain an acceptable interior temperature”?

Or, as Dave Dimmer of Toledo asked, ““Isn’t that why you idle a car in the first place?”

Dimmer, who was letting his car idle while scraping ice off the windshield, wanted to know how police could enforce the law.

“Would a cop have to sit in his idling police car to time you to see if you’re idling your car too long?” he asked. “Maybe we need part-time legislators in Ohio so they don’t have time to create such petty laws.”

According to Ballotpedia, Ohio is considered to have a full-time Legislature because it meets throughout the entire year, though senators and representatives spend an estimated 80 percent of their time on their elective duties, and many hold other employment.

But Dimmer raised a good point about how the law might apply to emergency or law enforcement vehicles. Would an ambulance be allowed to sit idling while paramedics work on a patient, or would that be illegal as well?

The law doesn’t mention such circumstances, but Foley agreed it was a good question and reiterated he’s not opposed to exemptions for emergency vehicles.

So how did Foley decide to introduce this bill? Was it concern for the environment? A personal experience that showed idling cars are a problem?

“It was a constituent with medical sensitivities that brought it to my attention,” he said. “She lives in an area where idling diesel trucks are a problem, especially with her health concerns.”

He added that environmental concerns, such as greenhouse gases, can also be addressed.

But why bring the state into the mix? Why make the law apply to all motor vehicles.

“It’s a legitimate question to ask if state government should be involved,” he said. “It affects more than just one constituent. As legislators, we deal with many things — it’s one of the fascinating aspects of the job. I definitely believe it is within the purview of the Legislature to take up an issue and raise it at the state level. Hopefully, we’ll have good discussions about it and raise awareness about the problem.”

As for narrowing the law to commercial vehicles or diesel engines, “I’m open to making it a better bill,” Foley said.

Foley said he doubts the bill will go anywhere, especially considering the small number of measure that actually receive votes, compared to the number introduced each legislative session. But if the point was solely to raise attention, perhaps a media campaign, rather than a law, might be a better route?

Maybe legislators will let the bill idle – indefinitely.

The post Just warming up: OH lawmaker seeks fines for people who leave cars idling appeared first on Watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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