11 October 2010

Idling Cars are Michael's Playthings

Everyone in Japan leaves their car running when they're parked. Every time we walk to the park to go running we walk past parked cars that are sitting idling while their owners are: reading, writing, emailing, talking on the phone, watching movies, smoking, sleeping - you name it, we've seen it. One time when we went running there was a guy who parked his car in front of our apartment and left it running while his wife sat inside it. He was moving boxes in and out of his apartment. When we came back from a 10.4km run (20 minute walk there, 50 minute run, 20 minute walk back) he was still moving boxes into the car and it was still running.

When we walked to a neighbourhood restaurant this evening we walked past a guy who was sitting in his running car watching a DVD and using an electric razor that was plugged into the car's cigarette lighter. When taxi drivers park on the side of the main road here to chat with each other they leave their taxis running.

Where am I going with this? I fantasize about turning these vehicles off for their operators and then giggling my ass off when they get upset. In Canada I would (and have) approach(ed) people who do this but here I lack the language skills to properly lay into people when they tell me to mind my own business. You polluting my air is my business and one day when I'm better able to I'll tell you. Or at least find out why idling vehicles are so prevalent here.

As a society we've become dependent on cars and we've decided that it's necessary to use them instead of mass public transit to navigate our cities. This causes a ton of unnecessary pollution - an amount that is increased by idling vehicles. If your vehicle isn't moving it shouldn't be running.

I remember my grandfather telling me that when he went to Switzerland he was amazed to see signs posted indicating that drivers were to turn off their vehicles at stop lights and were only permitted to turn them back on when the light turned green. I was amazed not at the law but that it hasn't been implemented world-wide. It's so simple to do but the effect would be amazing.

I discussed this last night with some friends and their objections were the objections that a lot of people have: it takes more fuel to start a vehicle than it does to leave one running; and, starters will need to be replaced due to more use of the ignition. I told them the same thing I tell everyone else I talk to about idling: those objections are simply not true.


  1. Wow, I cannot believe that! I rarely see people idling here, I can't imagine just leaving my car running while I go take a nap at the park. It sounds totally ridiculous.

    Another solution to the red light idling situation is roundabouts instead of lights. I think there's been some discussion to start having more of these in Victoria...

  2. Roundabouts only work in certain situations I think; if you have too many cars, you'll have to idle while waiting your turn to enter the roundabout.

    The trick is legislation probably. Pass a law that prohibits excessive idling (with a clear definition of the amount of time considered "excessive"). Apparently some Canadian cities have gone this route, although I doubt their laws are well-publicized or well-enforced (http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/communities-government/transportation/municipal-communities/reports/existing-bylaws.cfm?attr=28).

  3. You may have to wait to get in the roundabout but traffic is always moving in one so you're not waiting as long - you're always moving forward. How many times have you sat at a red light with no traffic coming the other way? That never happens in a roundabout. I'm a huge proponent of roundabouts.

    I think the trick now is enforcing the legislation that has been passed because you're right - they're not well-publicized nor well-enforced. My hometown has anti-idling legislation but it's not enforced. Granted it is difficult to do... Maybe what needs to happen is a blitz for a few weeks - like what happened with the no-cell-phones-while-driving laws.

  4. I agree that roundabouts are better for all the reasons you mention, but only in situations with minimal traffic. They're good at replacing four-way stops (e.g. at the bottom of the hill in Caddy Bay, but I wouldn't put them at major intersections (e.g. McKenzie and Shelbourne). Once you get past a certain traffic threshold, it's too complicated to co-ordinate entry and exit and you'll get a bunch more accidents.

  5. Great article, Myself from Canada and seeing this here in Fukuoka where I currently live, I'm sick and tired of it. I have approached so many drivers "environmental Terrorist" killing our air and contributing to global warming and asked them could you cut the engine in broken Japanese cos of ( I give a reason Like global warming etc). 95% of the time they cooperate with a smile or nod and understanding. I see cars Idling with no one inside while the owners are shopping etc, and some times there is a child inside, I immediatly notify Store staff and so all they they check it out and announce the vehicle info and plate number to stop this CRIME now. I wish Japan had more car thieves maybe then this foolishness would stop...Connivence stores are also a big problem for idling or lounging. Most japanese I know have never noticed this epidemic problem. So I think education is the key guilt and shame. I've printed out one of these posters to show drivers through the window, Cos most time the windows are closed. http://www.letsjapan.markmode.com/index.php/2008/12/18/stop-idling-for-10-years-campaign/
    I just changed the city to Fukuoka and I had A 8x10 sign to show them.
    Also if cars in Japan had automatic daytime running lights like we do In Canada, It would be much easier to see all these cars dirtying our air.

    PS there is a bento service here in fukuoka that I see their little trucks idling while they make their deliveries, I tell them to shut it off, they say cos of the bentosthey have to keep the AC on but I tell them environment is first, business 2nd.
    The irony to this is they use an animated blue & green earth logo with word natural on their vans cos they use all natural veggies, food from the earth etc in their bentos, but i said then you must remove this logo of the earth cos you are doing more harm than good.