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Business: Transportation

Research Report: Evaluation of Barriers to Participation by Individuals in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Activities

This project involved evaluating the barriers that kept individuals from participating in activities that might reduce greenhouse gas, and attempted to develop strategies to overcome these barriers. It was conducted for the Public Education and Outreach Issue Table of Canada's National Climate Change Process.

Idling was one of five activities examined in the residential and transportation sectors, along with weather stripping and caulking, installing programmable thermostats, maintaining tire pressure and purchasing "best-of-class" vehicles. To download the full report, click here. Key findings from a survey that included questions on engine idling are provided below.

Frequency of Idling Vehicle Engines

  • Fully 60 percent of respondents reporting warming their car engines in the past week before driving. On average, respondents idled their vehicle engines 4.2 times during the previous week. Overall, rural respondents reported idling their engines more frequently (5.1 times) than urban respondents (3.8 times) over the past week.

  • Respondents who idled their vehicle to warm the engine did so for 26 minutes on average in the week preceding the survey. Overall, rural respondents reported idling their engines for longer (35 minutes) than did urban respondents (22 minutes). In Québec and the Prairies, rural residents reported idling their engines more than twice as long as did their urban counterparts.

  • Thirty-nine percent of respondents reported that they had been in the vehicle as the engine idled. On average, respondents left their engines running 2.5 times in the previous week.

  • Respondents who idled their engine while waiting in the vehicle did so for 13 minutes on average during the week preceding the survey.

Who Idles?

  • Frequency of engine idling, both before driving and while waiting in a vehicle, could not be correlated with gender, income or year of car model. However, younger respondents were more likely to idle, and respondents with lower levels of education were more likely to idle before driving the vehicle. No relationship was found between education level and idling while waiting in the vehicle.

Barriers to Reduced Idling Before Driving

  • Respondents who idled their engines to warm them up were divided into three groups based on the length of time they had done so over the previous week:

    • low-duration – 0 minutes (11 respondents)
    • moderate duration – 0 to 9.4 minutes (160 respondents)
    • high duration – 9.5 or more minutes (452 respondents)

  • Typical characteristics of high-duration idlers:

    • believe it is good to warm the engine before driving
    • are younger
    • report that they idle the engine to keep warm
    • believe that idling an engine uses less fuel than restarting
    • have a lower level of education
    • believe that idling doesn't produce unnecessary pollution
    • believe it is easier on a vehicle's starter to let an engine idle

  • Typical characteristics of high- and low-duration idlers alike:

    • believe that turning off a vehicle engine saves significantly on gasoline costs
    • believe that turning off a vehicle engine when parked is "the right thing to do"
    • have friends or family who turn their vehicle engines off while parked
    • barriers to Reduced Idling While Waiting in Vehicles

  • Respondents who idled their engine while waiting in the vehicle were divided into two groups, based on the length of time they had done so over the previous week:

    • non-idlers – 0 minutes (627 respondents)
    • idlers (0 to 9.4 minutes) 392 respondents

  • Typical characteristics of idlers:

    • idle the engine to keep warm in cold weather
    • are younger
    • believe that turning off a vehicle engine when parked isn't "the right thing to do"
    • believe it is easier on a vehicle's starter to let an engine idle
    • believe it takes more gas to restart a vehicle after a stop of a few minutes than to keep it idling
    • believe it is good to warm a vehicle engine before driving

Motivations for Reducing Idling

  • Respondents were asked to rate the importance of several motivations for turning off their engines. Respondents strongly agreed that turning off the engine while parked is "the right thing to do." In descending order of importance, these were the next most important motivations:

    • Friends and family turn off their vehicle engines while parked.
    • Turning off the vehicle engine whenever possible saves a lot on gasoline costs.
    • You should turn off your engine even for very short stops.

Social Marketing Strategies

The above results were used to develop social marketing strategies aimed at reducing idling by Canadian drivers. For a full discussion of these strategies and other findings related to vehicle idling, click here to download the report.

Obtain a printable copy of this report (Zipped PDF file)