EPA Workshops Aim to Streamline Nation's Idling Laws for Trucks

March 11, 2005
Drivers of big rigs deal with big-time safety obstacles everyday, from loading dock hazards to heavy lifting to difficult driving conditions. Now EPA is trying to mitigate one obstacle that drivers have been dealing with for years: the inconsistent patchwork of anti-idling laws across the country.

While EPA lacks the authority to establish a national idling law, the agency plans to gather the various stakeholders -- including state environmental authorities, trucking groups, drivers, environmental groups and health associations -- for a series of workshops in Washington over the next few months to develop a consensus approach to eliminating the inconsistencies in idling laws across the country. The objective is to create a model that state and local entities can follow when developing their own idling laws.

The agency estimates half the country has state or local laws limiting the amount of time a vehicle can idle, and those laws "vary widely from state to state and municipality to municipality," said Glen Kedzie, environmental counsel for the American Trucking Associations.

"You name it -- people have done it with their laws," Kedzie said, pointing to one proposed idling law in Delaware that would require drivers within 25 miles of "electrification facilities" to drive to such sites and plug into an auxiliary power source if they needed to idle.

Nearly Impossible to Keep Track of Various Idling Laws

Some states limit idling to 3, 5, 10 or 30 minutes, and others exempt a truck if the outside temperature dips below a certain point. Most idling laws, however, don't consider the health of the driver when outside temperatures get hot, Kedzie explains.

"If you're not allowed to idle and it's 107 degrees outside and you're in Texas, what are you going to do?" Kedzie said, adding that drivers typically keep their windows closed for security purposes.

The trucking group, with offices in Washington and Alexandria, Va., offers drivers a pocket guide detailing the idling laws in various states and major municipalities, but Kedzie admits it's just "a starting guide."

"A little town of 100 might pass an ordinance that we're not aware of," he said.

Idling Pollutes the Air, Compromises Driver Health

Idling is, in part, a health and safety issue for truck drivers, who prefer to sleep in their cabs to stay close to their cargo and to save money on hotels in a time of razor-thin profit margins. Some states' idling laws, Kedzie says, exempt drivers who are using their cabs' sleeper berths for their intended purpose -- sleeping.

Of course, it's also an environmental issue. EPA estimates long-term truck and locomotive engine idling consumes more than 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually, during which time 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, 200,000 tons of oxides of nitrogen and 5,000 tons of particulate matter are emitted.

Other ramifications of long-term idling, according to EPA, include increased wear and tear on engines and shortened engine life; impaired driver rest and health; and elevated noise levels.

The American Trucking Associations, which has been working with EPA for years to streamline the nation's anti-idling laws, shares many of EPA's environmental concerns, Kedzie says. The organization also recognizes that reducing idling makes "good business sense" for an industry that is comprised almost entirely of independent contractors and small businesses.

"It takes .8 gallons of fuel to idle a truck per hour," Kedzie estimates. "If you're looking at $2 a gallon for diesel fuel, and you're idling for 10 hours, that's $16 in costs you're incurring just to sleep in your unit."

From an environmental standpoint, there are alternatives to engine idling, but they're expensive: Kedzie estimates that auxiliary power units -- essentially mini-diesel engines -- can run in the neighborhood of $8,000 to $10,000. That's a tough pill to swallow for small trucking companies that already are struggling to make ends meet with rising fuel prices.

There is light at the end of the tunnel for drivers: advancing technology. Newer engines are burning cleaner, and Kedzie estimates particulate matter emissions from diesel engines over the past 15 years have been reduced 80 percent.

The "next generation" of engines hitting the road in 2007 will produce 90 percent less particulate matter and 50 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions, according to Kedzie.

"The 2007 engines are going to be cleaner than a natural gas engine," he said.

Industry, EPA Already Partnering to Reduce Emissions

A possible harbinger of success for the upcoming EPA workshops is the SmartWay Transport Partnership between the agency and industry.

The partnership establishes incentives for fuel efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and its goals include reducing carbon dioxide emissions by between 33 and 66 million metric tons by 2012. The partnership includes freight carriers and freight shippers such as UPS, Schneider National Inc., YellowRoadway Corp., Nike Inc., Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

When stakeholders gather later this year to discuss idling laws, Kedzie said he hopes they can reach some consensus on temperature thresholds, time limits, sleeper berth policy, fine structures, posting requirements, enforcement and funding sources.

The economic, environmental and safety concerns not withstanding, Kedzie points to another major reason why this issue is important to truck drivers: "The truck cab is really the office of the truck driver. They live in it, work in it and sleep in it."

For more information on this effort, visit http://www.epa.gov.smartway.

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