EPA's SmartWay releases model idling law

| 5/8/2006

After months of planning and deliberation, the Environmental Protection Agency released a model law to encourage consistent policies nationwide for truck idling.

The sample law, which was made public May 4, is part of the EPA’s SmartWay program, a partnership between government officials and the freight and transportation industries, that’s designed to encourage fuel-saving strategies and reduce emissions without reducing profits.

Tanya Meekins, a spokeswoman for the EPA, told Land Line it is optional for communities to adopt the model law.

“EPA is not promulgating any type of regulation regarding vehicle idling,” Meekins said. “EPA’s role is limited to that of a facilitator on behalf of the federal government to respond to the trucking industry’s request to better involve the trucking industry in the development of idle reduction laws.”

The EPA suggests the model law apply to all commercial vehicles designed to operate on highways. It is meant to apply at all loading or unloading facilities where diesel vehicles operate.

The model law includes limiting vehicle idling at loading and unloading facilities to 30 minutes. At all locations other than loading or unloading facilities, idling is limited to five minutes in any 60-minute period, unless:

  • An occupied vehicle with a sleeper berth compartment idles for purposes of air conditioning or heating during rest or sleep period, or while waiting to load or unload, until five years after implementing a state financial assistance program for idle reduction technologies or strategies, whereupon this exemption expires;
  • A vehicle is forced to remain motionless because of on-highway traffic, an official traffic control device or signal, or at the direction of a law enforcement official;
  • A vehicle idles when operating defrosters, heaters, air conditioners, or installing other equipment solely to prevent a safety or health emergency, and not as part of a rest period;
  • A police, fire, ambulance, public safety, military, other emergency or law enforcement vehicle, or any vehicle being used in an emergency capacity, idles while in an emergency or training mode, and not for the convenience of the vehicle operator;
  • The primary propulsion engine idles for maintenance, servicing, repairing or diagnostic purposes if idling is necessary for such activity;
  • A vehicle idles as part of a state or federal inspection to verify that all equipment is in good working order, provided idling is required as part of the inspection;
  • Idling of the primary propulsion engine is necessary to power work-related mechanical or electrical operations other than propulsion (i.e., mixing or processing cargo or straight truck refrigeration). This exemption does not apply when idling for cabin comfort or to operate non-essential on-board equipment; and
  • A vehicle idles due to mechanical difficulties over which the driver has no control; provided that the vehicle owner submits the repair paperwork or product receipt (by mail, within 30 days) to the appropriate authority verifying that the mechanical problem has been fixed.

The model law also includes language related to auxiliary power units, or APUs. Unless specific ordinances prohibit them, all 2006 model year or older APUs are allowed under the model law.

Suggested penalties for violating idling laws are also listed. For a first offense, the EPA suggests drivers be issued a warning. For all subsequent offenses, the agency suggests a $150 citation be issued to the vehicle driver, and/or a $500 citation be issued to the registered vehicle owner or load/unload location owner.

According to an EPA press release, about half of all states have laws restricting where and for how long a truck can idle. Under SmartWay’s model, Meekins said, communities would be able to adopt a unified policy, making it easier for truckers to know the rules from city to city.

Mike Joyce, OOIDA’s senior government affairs associate, said OOIDA is pleased with EPA’s effort.

“It brings consistency to our members as they travel from coast to coast,” Joyce said. “It would help them with trip planning and give them the ability to comply with HOS and get the rest they need.”

Joyce said EPA, in its model law, recognizes the need for shippers to be better organized in getting truckers in and out of docks without queuing up.

“(The shippers) know that the waiting is not always the fault of truckers and this puts onus on the shippers to get their act together,” he said.

SmartWay held a number of meetings throughout the country during summer 2005 to generate ideas for state idling laws that would be effective on a nationwide scale. Specifics of possible idling laws, including time limits, weather conditions, months of enforcement, and exemptions for specific vehicle types, emergencies and situations were discussed.

A number of OOIDA members and board members attended the SmartWay conferences. Meekins said the model law is based on some of the main points discussed during these conferences.

“Many of these laws differ from state to state, creating an inconsistent patchwork of laws that is confusing to truck drivers and fleets,” she said. “The goal is to develop a consensus approach to eliminating these inconsistencies.”

Joyce said SmartWay provides a great way for the Association to get involved with some of the positive aspects of policy change on the federal level.

“We appreciate the opportunity to be at the table,” he said.

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 – which President Bush signed into law on Aug. 8, 2005 – SmartWay will receive $94.5 million during the next three years for reducing extended idling in heavy-duty vehicles.

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer