Language selection


3 A Model Idling Control By-law

The goal of this section is to provide an effective model by-law that municipalities can use to curb idling in their communities.Footnote 8 The model by-law was derived from research that included:

  • Collection and analysis of existing idling control by-laws in Canada;
  • Interviews with municipal staff responsible for developing, communicating and enforcing these by-laws; and
  • Review of relevant technical and regulatory support documentation.

An effective law or by-law is designed to be enforceable. Enforceable by-laws have several features:

  • A clearly stated purpose;
  • Straightforward and practical requirements;
  • Consistency with the provisions of other by-laws;
  • Penalties that are unambiguous, appropriate to the level of harm associated with the activity and significant enough to deter non-compliance;
  • A designated enforcement authority with the ability to enforce the by-law.Footnote 9

Assessed by these criteria, the existing Canadian idling control by-laws have both strengths and weaknesses. Most of the idling control by-laws have a clear purpose, though practical considerations have resulted in a number of exemptions. Most of the by-laws have identified a clear enforcement authority. However, only half have set fines that are relatively easy to administer. The following provides a more detailed overview of the weaknesses and strengths of existing by-laws.

3.1 Weakness of Existing By-laws

Several weaknesses in the provisions of existing by-laws make enforcement difficult, time-consuming or costly. These include:

  • Lengthy allowable idling period;
  • Allowed idling times for transit vehicles on layover or stopover;
  • Large number of exemptions;
  • Temperature exemptions;
  • Medical exemptions; and
  • Absence of a set fine.

3.1.1 Lengthy Allowable Idling Period

Canadian by-laws currently allow vehicles to idle anywhere from three to – in one case – 10 minutes. Enforcement staff in several municipalities have expressed concern about the length of the allowable idling period, because the longer a by-law enforcement officer must wait and observe an idling vehicle, the more time-consuming and costly the enforcement. A reduced allowable idling period would make idling control by-laws easier to enforce.

A reduced idling period would also meet the intent of many by-laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A light-duty car with a warm engine that idles for more than 10 seconds burns more fuel and emits more greenhouse gases than shutting down the engine and starting it again. As a result, a number of municipal and corporate fleets have imposed 10-second limits on idling of fleet vehicles to conserve fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many municipalities also promote a 10-second limit in vehicle engine idling literature and idle-free education programs. Shorter allowable idling times in idling control by-laws would be consistent with these environmental policies.

The health grounds for minimizing the allowable idling period, however, are less straightforward. Factors such as the age of the vehicle, the type of engine (diesel or gasoline), the catalytic converter and the outside temperature can all affect air pollution emissions from idling and determine when it is less polluting to idle a vehicle or to shut down the motor and start up again later.

In general, it is more polluting to idle a vehicle to warm up the engine than to start driving after about 30 seconds from a cold start. Vehicle engines warm up fastest when a vehicle is being driven, so as long as the windshields are clear, there is little reason to idle on start-up. Use of a block heater in very cold weather warms the engine before starting and reduces pollution even more.

Catalytic converters – which reduce carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions – work best when warmed up. As a result, some commentators suggest that vehicle idling will produce fewer pollutants than shutting down the engine and starting up a little later. However, idling vehicles circulate coolant that in warmer weather may cool the engine and catalytic converter faster than turning it off. And studies show that in cold weather, a gasoline engine that is shut off for a short period (under 10 minutes) does not cool down enough to reduce the effectiveness of the catalytic converter. However, in extreme cold a vehicle shut down for a longer period (over 30 minutes) would have increased pollutant emissions when it is restarted.

Unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, most diesel vehicles need a few minutes to warm up the engine at the start of a shift. Diesel vehicles can use a variety of anti-idling devices to reduce the need for idling to warm up the engine, cool the vehicle or run auxiliary equipment when stopped, however.

All this makes it more difficult to specify an optimum idling cut-off time for all vehicles on the basis of pollutant emissions. When a municipality chooses an allowable idling period, it must balance these issues of enforceability, climate change, pollutant emissions and health concerns.

3.1.2 Extended Idling for Transit Vehicles

Most existing anti-idling by-laws allow transit vehicles to idle for 10 or even 15 minutes on layover or stopover, except where idling is substantially for the convenience of the operator. This is usually justified on the grounds of providing a comfortable environment for passengers. However, a 10- or 15-minute allowable idling period makes enforcement problematic.

Transit vehicles are of particular concern because diesel vehicles – especially those with older or poorly maintained engines – are particularly dirty when idling, emitting particulates as well as greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Emissions from idling buses can become problematic in bus terminals or other partially enclosed areas.

In response to this concern, the Greater Vancouver Regional District in 2004 proposed a model by-law that allows transit vehicles to idle longer than 3 minutes only when passengers are embarking or disembarking. No municipality has adopted this provision to date.

3.1.3 Large Numbers of Exemptions

Most of the existing by-laws have between 10 and 12 exemptions that allow vehicles to idle beyond the prescribed 3- or 5-minute limits. While most of the exemptions are reasonable when examined individually, the effect of having a large number of exemptions is to create a patchwork law that is unevenly applied to some vehicles in some circumstances. Some enforcement officers report that this frustrates citizens who call to lay a complaint about idling vehicles in their communities, only to discover that the vehicles are exempted from the provisions of the by-law for one reason or another.

Municipalities that wish to make their by-laws more credible and enforceable should consider reducing the number of exemptions. A number of vehicles – such as police, fire, ambulance, vehicles attending an emergency (tow trucks), mobile workshops, and others – are currently exempted because of the need to power warning lights, computers, refrigeration, air conditioning, heating, and other devices. However, auxiliary power units are now available to provide power for many of these functions, and use much less fuel than an idling vehicle engine. There are also new technologies – such as LED (light-emitting diode) lights – that require much less power, enabling them to be run from the battery rather than an idling engine.

3.1.4 Temperature Exemptions

Most of the existing anti-idling by-laws exempt vehicles from idling prohibitions when temperatures are higher than 27°C or lower than 5°C, so that drivers can operate air conditioners or heaters to maintain passenger comfort in the vehicle. Three municipalities exempt vehicles whose interior temperature is greater than 27°C or less than 5°C. The justification for this is that a vehicle standing in a sunny location might get quite hot inside even though the outside temperature is cooler. However, most municipalities that have adopted this exemption, have applied it to the outside temperature rather than the temperature on the interior of the vehicle. This is because by-law enforcement officers do not have the right to enter a vehicle to check the temperature, which makes the provision difficult to enforce.

Both the inside and outside temperature exemptions allow for unlimited idling for a large part of the year in much of Canada. Perhaps even more problematic, allowing vehicles to idle when the temperature is above 27°C means that unlimited idling is permitted on most smog days.

Recognizing these enforcement problems, the Greater Vancouver Regional District did not include a temperature exemption in its model by-law published last year.Footnote 11 GVRD representatives acknowledge that weather conditions in this area are moderate, which makes temperature exemptions less of a concern. Still, other municipalities would be wise to consider the problems that the temperature exemption raises for enforcement.

The temperatures of 27°C and 5°C were proposed during the development of the Toronto by-law, to allow vehicles to have air conditioners or heaters operating when temperatures outside are high or low. Temperature is only one of the factors that determine comfort or health effects related to weather conditions. Other factors include: clothing, air movement, cloud cover, and humidity. Ideally, an exemption aimed at the comfort and safety of idling drivers and their passengers would take into account several of these factors. Practically, it is not possible.

Canada's Humidex rating system combines two important factors – temperature and humidity.Footnote 12 When the temperature gets into the mid 20's, high relative humidity can raise the Humidex above 30°C. Sedentary people such as drivers and passengers in stationary vehicles, will start to experience some discomfort at a Humidex level of 30-39°C, and feel much more uncomfortable at a rating of 40°C and higher. Heat stress will generally not occur in sedentary persons until Humidex readings reach 46°C. The lowest temperature at which this can occur is 29°C (with a relative humidity of 100 %).

Using this information, municipalities would be justified in using a temperature exemption of 29°C or 30°C to safeguard the health of people in stationary vehicles against heat stress.Footnote 13

Several U.S. states and municipalities allow idling only if the outside temperature is lower than 32°F. This would translate to a temperature exemption of 0°C if it were applied in Canadian jurisdictions.

The Town of Markham's recent idling by-law (June 2005) is the first to allow exemptions when the temperature is above 30°C or below 0°C.

3.1.5 Exemption for Persons with a Medical Certificate

Existing anti-idling by-laws include an exemption for vehicles transporting a person where a medical doctor certifies in writing that the person needs the temperature or humidity be maintained within a certain range. There is no evidence that in the nine years since this exemption was first enacted in the City of Toronto by-law, and in similar by-laws passed later, that anyone has acquired or used such a letter to allow them to idle their vehicle. The Greater Vancouver Regional District did not include this exemption in their model by-law.

3.1.6 Lack of a Set Fine

By-laws with set fines are easier to enforce. An enforcement officer can write a ticket for an idling infraction, and the offending driver in most cases simply pays the fine in the same way they would a parking ticket, with the option to go to court if they wish to contest the charge. Since relatively few drivers contest the charge, the enforcement officer needs only the time required to observe the idling vehicle for a little longer than the 3 or 5 minutes allowed by the by-law, and to write the ticket, with an occasional appearance in court. In municipalities with a set fine, enforcing an anti-idling by-law could produce revenue that supports by-law enforcement. However, fewer than half of municipalities with anti-idling by-laws have set fines.

In municipalities without a set fine, an enforcement officer must write a summons, prepare a charge and then appear in court, which can take an estimated 4-5 hours for each charge, and takes up the time of court officers as well as the enforcement officer. This can be a revenue drain on a municipality. It may also discourage enforcement officers – who may have the responsibility to enforce many by-laws – from enforcing an anti-idling by-law because of the time requirements.

3.2 Model Anti-idling By-law Provisions

The model anti-idling by-law proposed on the following pages outlines the key provisions that municipalities might consider in adopting a new by-law or revising an existing one. It draws on the strengths of existing by-laws, and attempts to address some of the weaknesses identified by municipal enforcement officials. In some cases, the model by-law suggests different options that municipalities might want to consider for specific provisions.

To help municipalities in considering the provisions of a new or revised by-law, the model is first presented in a chart form, with comments on specific provisions in a column on the right. The proposed by-law is also presented as a stand-alone document in Section 3.3.

Provisions of a Model Anti-idling By-law Comments

Whereas Section [ ] of the [relevant provincial act] authorizes municipalities to regulate with respect to [fill in the relevant wording from the Act which grants authority for the municipality to regulate on anti-idling and related issues];


The preamble usually begins by citing the legal authority for the by-law, usually a provincial act that grants to municipalities the right to regulate with respect to public health and welfare, and/or the protection of the environment.

And whereas motor vehicles are sources of particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxide, volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gas emissions;

It also sets out the rationale for the by-law, usually related to concerns about air pollution and climate change.

And whereas air pollution in the [City or Town] of [Insert name of municipality] is associated with adverse health effects;

Insert the name of your municipality.

And whereas, the [City or Town] of [Insert name] has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions [list commitment, e.g. Partners for Climate Protection];

Cities or towns that adopt a by-law as part of a larger commitment, such as joining Partners for Climate Protection, could refer to that commitment in this section.

Therefore the Council of [Insert name] enacts the following by-law:

Insert the name of your municipality.

Short title (or Citation)

This by-law may be cited as the "Idling Control By-law"

Article 1 – Definitions (or Interpretation)

In this by-law:

Definitions (or Interpretation)

"Boat" means a ship or any other description of a vessel not propelled by oars and includes a boat used exclusively for towing purposes, a water taxi and a boat used on water for living purposes.

Some municipalities with a waterfront apply idling prohibitions to boats and to ferries, and so define them in this section of the by-law.

"Idle" means the operation of a vehicle engine while the vehicle is not in motion and "idling" has a corresponding meaning.

"Vehicle" or "Motor Vehicle" means any vehicle that is capable of being driven or drawn on roads by any means other than muscular power exclusively, but does not include any vehicle designed to run exclusively on rails.

Some municipalities include a larger number of definitions than are shown here, including "city," "transit vehicle," "layover," "stopover," or "by-law officer" depending on the specific contents of the by-law.

"Vehicle with Power Take-off" means a vehicle containing work equipment that must be powered by the vehicle engine.

Most municipal by-laws exempt vehicles referred to as "mobile workshops" from idling restrictions. By mobile workshops they usually mean vehicles containing equipment powered by the engine. Natural Resources Canada has suggested that the term "vehicle with power take-off" is more appropriate and so we are using that term here.

Article 2: General Prohibitions

Option 1) No person shall cause or
permit a vehicle or boat engine
to idle for more than one
minute in a 60-minute period.

Option 2) No person shall cause or
permit a vehicle or boat engine
to idle for more than three
minutes in a 60-minute period.

General Prohibitions

Most idling control by-laws currently restrict idling to 3 [or 5] minutes in a 60-minute period. However, some municipalities restrict idling in their own fleets to much shorter periods.Footnote 14 These policies are based on the NRCan recommendation to idle no more than 10 seconds (30 seconds for vehicle cold-start).

A one-minute allowable idling time fits better with idle-free goals. Longer allowable idling times are also harder to enforce. Three minutes is the shortest allowable idling time in current by-laws.

Municipalities with a waterfront should add boats to this prohibition

Article 3: Exemptions

Article 2 does not apply to:


This section includes only those exemptions adopted by all Canadian municipalities with stand-alone by-laws. Including only essential exemptions simplifies the model by-law and makes enforcement easier and more consistent.

(a) Police, fire or ambulance vehicles or boats while engaged in operational activities, except where idling is substantially for the convenience of the operator of the vehicle.

These vehicles must keep lights, radios, on-board computer systems, and other equipment functioning while on the job.

(b) Vehicles and boats assisting in an emergency activity.

The intent of this exemption is to allow vehicles to use emergency lights, etc.

(c) Vehicles with power take-off while they are in the course of being used for their basic function.

This exemption covers vehicles where the engine provides power for auxiliary equipment used for work.

(d) Vehicles or boats for which idling is required to service the engine or conduct repairs.

Municipalities on a waterfront should add boats to this provision.

(e) Armoured vehicles in which a person remains inside the vehicle while guarding the contents, or while the vehicle is being loaded or unloaded.

Armoured car operators need to be able to get away quickly in case of an attempted robbery. Doors are electronically controlled and windows don't open, necessitating the use of air conditioning.

(f) Vehicles or boats remaining motionless because of an emergency, traffic, weather conditions or mechanical difficulties over which the driver has no control.

(g) Vehicles or boats engaged in the course of a parade or race or any other event authorized by Council

Most municipalities include this exemption. Using the phrase "in the course of" may help limit idling of vehicles waiting for an event to begin, or waiting to disperse at the end of an event.

(h) Vehicles or boats idling while passengers are embarking or disembarking.

This would cover transit buses, tour buses, ferries and other vehicles taking on or discharging passengers. Note: there are no provisions for vehicles idling during a stopover or layover.

(i) Option 1) Do not include
temperature exemptions
in the by-law

Some municipalities have no temperature exemptions in their idling-related by-laws.

Option 2) Provide the following
temperature exemptions:

If municipal officials believe that a temperature exemption is advisable, a good argument can be made for reducing the extent of the exemption and improving the enforceability of the by-law, as in the second option.

Vehicles or boats when the ambient outside temperature is more than 30°C or less than 0°C.

Smog events are more likely to occur on hot, sunny days, therefore a municipality that opts to include the temperature exemptions in Option 2 may be strengthened by adding a clause disallowing this exemption on smog days.

Article 4: Administration and Enforcement

This by-law shall be administered and enforced by a Parking Enforcement Officer or By-law Enforcement Officer of the [City or Town] or by an Officer of the [City or Town] Police.

Administration and Enforcement

Ideally, this by-law would be enforced by parking enforcement officers as well as by municipal by-law enforcement officers. There are more parking enforcement officer and they are out on the streets more of the time.

Article 5: Penalties

Any person who contravenes any provision of this by-law is guilty of an offence.


Set fines allow enforcement officers to ticket an offender rather than issue a summons.

The owner or lessee of a vehicle that is permitted to idle in contravention of this by-law is guilty of an offence.

This provision allows the municipality to charge the owner of a vehicle, in cases where the driver cannot be identified.

Every person guilty of an offence under this By-law may pay a set fine of [xx dollars], in accordance with [Relevant Provincial Legislation].

Set fines currently vary from $20 to $380. Most are in the $100 -- $155 range, which should be a sufficient deterrent to idling but not so high that enforcement officers are reluctant to issue them. Set fines are not always enumerated in the by-law, to give municipalities more flexibility to change the level of the fine.

Previous | Contents | Next


Report a problem on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: