Oops! I Idled Again!

The average driver spends 6 minutes a day idling unnecessarily. Lately, I’ve been thinking about where that idling occurs. There are obvious places, like the school car rider line, drive throughs and ATMs. There are also the less obvious places, where you may find yourself idling without even realizing it, such as when we’re leaving an event, running an errand, or making a phone call.

Whatever your entertainment venue, you often end up idling as you leave. As soon as the movie, game, or show is over, we get out of our seats, only to sit once again, this time in a snarl of traffic. Maybe it’s time to make a better game plan. Why sit in the line that snakes out of the parking garage, idling away, when you can enjoy a coffee while discussing the performance you’ve just seen? Does the tailgate have to end with the final horn? Instead of jumping into event-related traffic, relax, listen to the post-game inteviews and let the traffic dissipate.

Any time you think, “I’ll just be a minute” and you’re tempted to leave the engine running, is a moment for self-examination. It’s easy to underestimate the time it takes to run those little errands, like returning a movie. If you count the time to takes to unbuckle your seatbelt, reach for the movie, run up to the kiosk, make sure the movie goes all the way into the slot–okay, you’re already way past ten seconds. If you don’t believe it, have someone time you, but only if you can stand the humiliation of your teenager telling you just how slow you really are.

With cell phone calls, it’s all about safety. It’s smart to pull out of traffic and park to take a cell phone call or answer a text. What’s not so smart is to run your engine while you’re doing it. Is this phone call going to take more than ten seconds? Probably. Might as well turn off the engine, save the gas and help everyone breathe easier.

In Louisville, unnecessary idling wastes about 4 million gallons of fuel per year. Let’s save the money, the fuel and the air by following the ten second rule when it’s safe and wise to do so.

I Didn’t Realize I Was Idling

“But I’m not in the car rider line,” I’ve heard some parents say. Yes, we’re working on making the car rider line a lot cleaner, especially at schools that have designated themselves as Idle Free.  Parents and their children (and not to mention the car rider monitor) are breathing easier when everyone turns the key while waiting. But that’s not the only place where school related idling is going on.

Some parents drive their children to the bus stop. If your child rides the school bus, are you idling while you’re waiting? In the hustle and bustle of the morning, you may not even notice that you’ve been idling away for minutes. Over time, that adds up.

After school is another opportunity to reduce idling. The car rider line left the school hours ago, but there’s plenty of activity still going on inside, with sports, music, drama and other school sponsored events. If you’re waiting to pick up your child from after school activities, is your engine running? You and your child will breathe easier if you turn it off.

Maybe your teen drives a car to school; does he or she know not to idle? Start them out right with a lesson on car maintenance and the ten second rule of idling. It’s never too soon to adopt smarter, more efficient driving habits.

The average person idles six minutes a day, which seems like a small amount, but it adds up to over 4 million gallons of fuel wasted by Louisville drivers each year. Remember that reducing idling saves fuel and helps keep our air clean.

Athlete, Meet Ozone

I kind of pride myself on not giving in to the heat while many other Louisvillians are hiding indoors in the comfort of air conditioning. So I took this day to be a good opportunity to train in the unseasonably high heat.

After the first mile or so, I felt unusually sluggish and overall like I wasn’t going to be able to finish my distance goal without stopping. Determined that this was one of those mental toughness situations, I figured I should just be able to ignore signals from my body that this might not be a good idea. I did consider that I felt this way due to the heat, rather than just being physically lazy.

After pushing through some dizziness, I finally decided to slow to a walk after the first wave of nausea hit. After a minute of walking I resumed the jogging for probably another mile before I repeated the whole process. Overall I repeated this about three times over the course of three and a half miles until I made my way back to my vehicle. I remember thinking to myself that I must not be as fit as I thought I was. Maybe the heat had something to do with it, but mostly I remember feeling disappointed that I performed so poorly.

The following day I spoke with a co-worker and fellow runner about the situation. He informed me of the Air Quality Alert that was in effect during my time of peril. I was somewhat reluctant to agree that it had anything to do with it. However, I ran the same distance and route again the next day and I felt 100% better. Maybe there is something to this air quality alert stuff that is affecting those of us that don’t usually consider ourselves to be part of a sensitive group.

Editor’s note Ozone peaked at 140 on the AQI (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups) on Friday, September 2nd. On the day of Dane’s second run, ozone was back in the Good range.

Healthy adults of all ages who exercise or work vigorously outdoors are considered a “sensitive group” because they have a higher level of exposure to ozone than people who are less active outdoors.  KAIRE recommends that athletes scale back their outdoor exercise on Air Quality Alert days to reduce exposure to ozone.  Scheduling a morning run or jog may help, since ozone builds up as the day goes on.

Healthy adults can experience a 15 to 20 percent reduction in lung function from prolonged exposure to low levels of ozone. Damage to lung tissue may be caused by repeated exposure to ozone and this could result in reduced quality of life as people age. Results of animal studies suggest that repeated exposure to ozone for several months or more may produce permanent structural damage to the lungs.

Back to School? Keep it Idle Free

You’ll help reduce exhaust fumes emitted into the air around your school.

Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because they breathe faster than adults, breathe 50% more air per pound of body weight than adults, and are closer to the ground, so closer to the tailpipes. Asthma is the most common chronic illness in children and the cause of most school absences.

Help by turning off your vehicle’s engine when parked or waiting by your child’s school. It’s that easy.

Tire Blow Out: Checking Tires is a Safety and Air Quality Issue

I checked the mirrors, let up on the accelerator and steered the car to the shoulder. “What was that noise, Mom?” asked the drowsy voice behind me. “We’ve blown a tire,” I said. Tire blow outs are more than an inconvenience. Blow outs can result in vehicle accidents, many of them fatal. What causes a tire to blow out?

1. Improper inflation is a major cause of blow outs.

a. Underinflation — Underinflated tires will flex excessively in the sidewalls, which leads to a buildup of heat in the sidewalls. That heat buildup can lead to a blow out, especially with highway driving in hot weather. Use your tire gauge to make sure your tires are at the recommended pressure.  The upside to this check is you’ll save around $0.12 per gallon if your tires were 10 psi too low.  Don’t forget to check the spare in the trunk!

b. Overinflation — Filling up your tires without a tire gauge can lead to overfilling. Never exceed the maximum pressure, which you’ll find on the side of your tire. The recommended tire pressure is found on the sticker inside the door jamb on the driver’s side.

2. Overloading your vehicle. This is more of an issue for trucks, SUVs, vans and trailers used for hauling heavy loads. Check the loading rating of your tires to make sure they are up to the task.

3. Road hazards. This was the cause our blow out. Something unseen on the road punctured the tire. Steering around obvious road hazards, such as potholes or objects in the roadway and avoiding “curb shots” are the only real preventatives here.

4. Tread wear. Eventually, all tires wear out. Check the depth of the tire tread and look for any bulges, punctures or cracks on the tire’s surface. Tires should be checked every time your vehicle is serviced.

Fortunately for us, our tire blow out was largely a non-event. Traffic was light, there was plenty of room on the well-lighted shoulder to pull off and we were home and safe within the hour. I couldn’t help but think that had we been farther from home, on a darker road or in the middle of rush hour traffic, the situation could have been much, much more dangerous.

The health of those who live and breathe in Kentuckiana is also riding on your tires. Driving on properly maintained tires helps save the air by decreasing your vehicle’s emissions. The US Dept. of Energy estimates the waste of 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline per year because Americans are driving on underinflated tires. Since burning one gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, our air could be much cleaner if everyone just took a few minutes to keep their tires maintained.

Check your tires frequently. It’s a matter of safety, economy and health.