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My turn: A ‘turn-key’ operation


Even as we leave behind the cold of winter, it is still common to see, hear and smell cars and trucks with idling engines. For a variety of reasons, people everywhere are leaving their engines running even though shutting them off prolongs engine life, saves money, conserves fuel, and protects our environment, while helping folks with asthma and other lung-related conditions. The harmful effects of excessive engine idling are numerous. So it makes sense that Massachusetts and many other states prohibit idling for more than 5 minutes. But they rarely enforce this law AND five minutes is also much too long to leave an engine running.

The myth about engine warm-up: Some folks think engines need to be “warmed up.” Actually, the best thing is to drive immediately after starting the engine because harmful carbon deposits build up much faster in a cold, idling motor. And if you think that starting an engine uses more gas than idling it, here’s another fact: Idling for more than 10 seconds actually uses more gas than it takes to start an engine. This is why a 15-second rule, rather than a 5-minute one, makes more sense.

Let’s break the habit. Just turn off the key! Why wait for enforcement of the law? After all, who really wants to add to our global climate problem, waste gas and money, cause hardship for those with asthma and decrease engine life when the simple alternative is just to turn the key off? Some people will still pre-warm their vehicles in the cold of winter (or keep them running for the comfort of AC on a hot day), even though with the engine turned off, the interior remains plenty warm (or cool) for another 10 minutes. But most of the time, cars and trucks are left idling when it is neither hot nor cold outside. Although it may appear that idling vehicles reflect a driver’s lack of concern for our environment or for a child’s lungs, in most cases people just do it out of habit. And who wants to look like they don’t care; especially now, when showing concern for the environment (and modifying your behavior) is not just popular but absolutely vital? This being the case, the good news is that in recognizing this habit, we become receptive to an occasional polite reminder.

With our new campaign — “Turn the Key, Be Idle Free” — The People’s Pint and Greening Greenfield are asking drivers who are in the habit of idling their cars and trucks while waiting to pick up their child at school, running into the post office or store or just sitting in their car, to please turn the engine off. Help us spread the word by reminding others how easy it is to make a big difference with a simple twist of the hand. Why wait for a legislative vote or improved police enforcement or a media blitz (although, all this would be helpful)? After all, it’s really just basic common sense to turn off your engine.

Here’s what you can do:

∎ Shut off your engine when waiting at a drive-up fast food or bank window. Or better yet, park your vehicle and walk into the establishment.

∎ Ask your school officials to encourage parents and bus drivers to turn off their engines while waiting for children.

∎ Talk to your town officials, police, fire and highway departments about adopting a strict “no-idling” policy to reduce your town’s fuel budget and to show that your town cares about climate change and air pollution.

∎ Ask construction workers and the companies they work for to please turn off their pickup truck and car engines when parked or when taking breaks.

∎ Approach your favorite stores, banks, gas stations and other businesses you support to post a “no idling” sign in their parking lot.

∎ Think twice before buying a remote car starter for yourself or a friend. Once installed, the temptation to use it daily and excessively is just too great. And don’t forget how bad it is for your engine.

∎ Pick-up a stack of information cards at The People’s Pint to distribute to folks as a polite reminder — they are free and make asking much easier!

For more information, to join our campaignand to print off information cards, go to or contact us through

Alden Booth lives in Gill and is the owner of The People’s Pint. He enjoys the challenges and rewards of reducing the use of fossil fuels at work and at home. Along with many others, he believes that common sense, science, and morality compel us to make real daily efforts to minimize fuel consumption — an ongoing patriotic act that is absolutely vital to the health and welfare of our communities, our world and ourselves. For further discussion he can be contacted at

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