Salt Lake City doesn't expect to issue many tickets if idling ordinance passes

Published: Friday, Oct. 14 2011 5:10 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The city's proposed idling ordinance has some drivers asking just how will the ordinance will be enforced?

Bianca Shreeve, assistant chief of staff for Mayor Ralph Becker, said the public should think of it like a littering violation in a park: there are city ordinances that prohibit littering and allow for big fines if a person is caught leaving trash, but there aren't police officers waiting to spring out from behind a tree when someone leaves a wrapper on the ground.

On Oct. 25, the Salt Lake City Council is expected to consider, and possibly take a final vote, on an ordinance that would limit vehicle idling in Utah's capital city to less than two minutes.

The goal of the proposal is to improve air quality in the Salt Lake Valley. City officials say more than 50 percent of air pollution in the valley comes from vehicle exhaust.

But the ordinance raises numerous "what if" scenarios ranging from long drive-through lines at fast food restaurants and long stop lights to traffic jams and warming up vehicles in the winter.

Violators could potentially be fined up to $120.

Shreeve said the intent behind the proposed ordinance is education. Like littering, an idling ordinance would get people thinking about the issue and taking steps to reduce air pollution. But she said in the proposal to the City Council the effort would be considered revenue neutral, meaning the city does not plan to make any significant money from idling violators who are fined.

"I don't really see us issuing a lot of citations," she said. "We're just advising folks."

The agency in charge of issuing citations would be Salt Lake City Parking Enforcement, not the Salt Lake Police Department.

But Shreeve said parking enforcers, who already have full loads on their plates everyday, will not be given extra or special shifts to go out and look solely for illegally idling vehicles.

"We want that to be their primary job — enforcing parking and meters," she said, noting that an idling citation will just be "another tool in their kit."

The proposed ordinance would extend to private properties, meaning cars left idling in their driveways could be fined. But again, Shreeve said parking enforcers are not going to deviate from their already assigned routes to go hunting for violators in residential areas.

"It's just an additional thing for them to keep in mind when they're out in the community," Shreeve said.

There is also a long list of exemptions that take into account most scenarios, including extreme hot or cold temperatures, the use of a defroster, when the health of a passenger is at risk or emergency vehicles responding to a scene, just to name a few, she said.

Shreeve said her office's research found that drive-through windows would not be an issue. She said the average vehicle is able to inch forward during a two-minute time frame.

However, if a vehicle is at a drive through window with a little wait, turning off a car could be both beneficial to the environment and the employee at the drive-through window who has to breath car fumes all day.

"We hope people will think about it when they are waiting for a sandwich and cup of coffee," she said.

Shreeve said a person would actually have to be a frequent and blatant violator in order to be fined. If the ordinance passes, there will initially be a six-month grace period to heighten awareness.

After that, drivers will just get a warning on their first violation. The second violation will be a $50 fine if paid within the first 10 days of receiving a citation, $90 if within the first 20 days and $120 if over 30 days.

Salt Lake City is part of Idle Free Utah, a collaboration of state, municipal and private organizations working to reduce vehicle idling time in Utah.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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