Thursday, August 18, 2011

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker Submits Proposed Anti-Idling Ordinance To The Salt Lake City Council, Contains Numerous Common-Sense Exemptions

Looking down on the Salt Lake Valley from Little Cottonwood Canyon during a smog episode
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who's running for re-election this year with only nominal opposition, has submitted a proposed anti-idling ordinance. The Salt Lake City Council is expected to introduce and debate the ordinance at the scheduled meeting on Tuesday August 23rd, although a public hearing (where members of the public can give testimony) and an actual vote is not expected until sometime in September, to coincide with Idle Free Awareness Month.

The City Council does not yet hot-link to the proposed August 23rd agenda, so the most current draft of the proposed ordinance is not available there. However, I found the most current version of the ordinance on the mayor's official website; it was transmitted to the city council on March 28th, 2011. Skip past all the "Whereas" clauses and scroll to page 3 (as listed on the bottom of the page) to see all the pertinent stuff, which is highlighted below:

(1). Definition of "Idle": “Idle” means the operation of a vehicle engine while the vehicle is stationary or not in the act of performing work or its normal function. This indicates that if you're in line at a drive-through facility, you won't have to shut your vehicle off so long as the drive-through line is moving regularly.

(2). The specific restriction: No driver, while operating a vehicle within city limits, shall cause or permit a vehicle’s engine to idle for more than two minutes, except for [a number of common-sense exceptions].

(3). Exceptions: There are twelve exceptional situations specified in which one is not required to shut vehicles down after two minutes. Here are the four exceptions which will be applicable to the greatest number of people.

------ Warming up a vehicle upon initial start. This is beneficial for those who don't have access to garages.

------ The ordinance will not apply if the temperature is below 32F or above 90F, as reported by the National Weather Service at Salt Lake International Airport, to preserve the health & safety of a driver, passenger, or accompanying service animal.

------ While waiting at a traffic light or railroad crossing.

------ Idling to recharge a battery or other energy storage unit of a hybrid electric vehicle.

Other exceptions are specified for occupational reasons. NOT EXEMPTED are idling while in a drive-through line or while waiting to pick up kids at school when the temperature is between 32F and 90F; if the drive-through line is not moving consistently, you will be required to comply with the ordinance, although I think most cops can find more productive things to do than watch a drive-through line with a stop watch.

(4). Penalties: First offense will carry a warning but no fine. Second offense was listed as $210 on the first draft, but it's now down to $160 on the new draft. The second offense must take place within 24 months of the first offense to be actionable.

The actual ordinance itself is only seven pages; the remaining pages consist of background material.

The draft ordinance which is introduced by the city council on August 23rd could have some additional differences from the transmitted draft, so you'll have to pay attention. At least the draft provides some idea as to what to expect.

Reaction: While the Tribune claims widespread support for the anti-idling ordinance, public comments appended to the March 28th draft package indicate a more even split, with only a small majority of the public supporting it. Probably the most typical comment was submitted by Jessica Steed of Salt Lake, who wrote "There has to be a limit to government. There has to be. This ordinance crosses that line.” Nevertheless, the large number of exemptions make the ordinance more palatable and could facilitate passage by the City Council.

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