Drivers could be fined ‘on the spot’ for leaving their engines running

Drivers could soon be issued on the spot fines if they repeatedly leave their engines running while parked.

Under proposals being considered by the government, local authorities could be given more power to reduce pollution.

At the moment, officers are unable to impose penalties unless drivers ignore an initial warning and remain stationary for another minute – but councils have called for tougher laws.

Under existing regulations, fines for 'idling' can range from £20 to £80 but Westminster City Council is urging the government to allow for harsher punishments, The Times reports.

The council's Conservative leader, Nickie Aiken, wants the power to issue fines immediately to repeat offenders.

"Fines are our last resort but when we establish a pattern of persistent idling we need to be able to send a message," she told The Times.

Westminster City Council carries out far more enforcement than most other authorities but issued only 20 fines last year.

Ms Aikens said fines for company vehicles, such as supermarket delivery vans, caught idling need to be a "four-figure sum" to be a sufficient deterrant.

Environment secretary Michael Gove is supporting the council's call, but stressed that any new powers should be used proportionately by councils.

According to Westminster City Council, an idling car produces enough exhaust emissions to fill 150 balloons a minute.

It has called on the public to report unnecessary engine idling through its website, as the borough suffers from the worst air pollution in the country.

370 million miles are driven in Westminster each year, the council reports.

A spokesman said: "We want to take action to improve the air quality for our community and its visitors, by eliminating engine idling from the areas of highest pollution in the city.

"It’s an issue that affects everyone, so everyone should care. By making this small change we can all make a big difference."

Up to 18 local authorities in London have been involved in so-called “idling action events”, with drivers approached and asked to switch off their engines when parked with Islington council saying that 80% of drivers switch off if requested in a friendly and non-judgmental manner.

Many local authorities, including the City of London, Camden, Croydon, Reading, Norwich and Canterbury did not issue any fines for idling last year.

Camden Council, which is also calling for instant fines, has warned more than 400 drivers but issued no fines since giving enforcement officers the power to issue fixed penalties in March last year.

Adam Harrison, Camden’s cabinet member for environment, told The Times that it would be necessary to observe drivers idling for a specified period but that they should not be given a warning before they were fined. 

A spokesperson for The Department for Transport said: “We are determined to reduce the damaging environmental impacts of drivers who keep their engines running while stationary, especially those in school zones.

"This is why we are making guidance for local authorities clearer, so that they know how and when to target drivers falling foul of the law. We will be polling local authorities to understand how any potential review of these powers may look in the future.”

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