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Borough action against idling expands despite legal doubts

Air Quality

Andrew Forster
20 March 2020

A number of London boroughs are issuing tougher penalities against motorists who leave their engine idling, even though there appears to be some uncertainty about the legality of the approach. 

The City of London Corporation this month became the latest authority to approve plans to enforce against idling using a Traffic Management Order (TMO). The Corporation says at least seven other boroughs are already using the approach. 

The traditional method to enforce idling is widely regarded as ineffective. Regulations made in 2002 under the Environment Act 1995 allow councils to issue £20 fixed penalty notices to motorists who leave their engine idling. Enforcement officers must first, however, ask the motorist to switch their engine off.

“Over the past 12 months the City’s environmental officers have not issued any fixed penalty notices as motorists have either complied with their instructions or driven off,” Carolyn Dwyer, the Corporation’s director of built environment, told members. 

She said DfT officials had acknowledged that the Environment Act 1995 powers were ineffective and that it had announced plans last June to consult on proposals to impose tougher penalties on idling motorists. Nothing had happened since, however.

Because of the current unsatisfactory arrangements, Dwyer said at least seven boroughs in the last two years had made a TMO under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to prohibit idling. Westminster City Council is among them. 

The TMO allows civil enforcement officers to issue penalty charge notices of £80 against idlers. She indicated, however, that there were questions about the legality of the approach. 

“For a TMO to be valid, adequate information on the prohibition or direction through signage is required. However, the DfT has not yet approved standardised signage and discussions with the DfT have so far indicated that there is a lack of appetite for a new sign at this stage. 

“To overcome this when enforcing TMOs, the approach of some authorities has been to first request that the motorist switch their engine off and only if they fail to comply with the request, is a PCN issued. 

“Given the absence of signage and the fact that this is an untested and new approach, it is expected that challenges may follow.” 

A private report was presented to Corporation members discussing the legal aspects of the proposal. 

LTT asked the DfT why it had not approved signage to support TMOs. In a statement it said: “The DfT has not been contacted to authorise anti-idling signs to advise of Traffic Management Orders.”

On the question of the legality of the TMOs, the DfT said: “The current Traffic Management Order system that some London councils operate to prevent unnecessary idling is separate from the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002. 

“It is the responsibility of individual councils to determine the use of Traffic Management Orders, dependent on their individual circumstances.”

LTT also asked the DfT if it still planned to consult on raising the level of penalty charge for idling from £20. It did not reply to this point.  

Dwyer described how the Corporation planned to carry out  enforcement under the TMO: “Civil enforcement officers [would] first issue a warning notice to a non-exempt vehicle idling. This warning would be held on record against the [vehicle] registration to ensure the motorist has been made aware of the prohibition. 

“Any subsequent idling observation of the same vehicle would result in a PCN being issued by a civil enforcement officer without further warning. If signage is agreed with the DfT, these will then be installed across the City to further improve awareness and compliance.”

The City will exempt certain vehicle types, including taxis waiting on a rank and vehicles that require their engine to be running to operate machinery such as refrigerated units, hydraulic doors / lifts and cement mixers. 

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