A new Colchester-wide campaign has launched to encourage drivers to switch off their car engines while they wait at traffic lights, level crossings or outside schools, to improve their own health and help reduce air pollution in the town. The campaign, CAReless Pollution, comes as research (1) shows 87% of local people are concerned about air quality in Colchester and 41% think the town is highly polluted.

CAReless POLLUTION, is urging drivers to adopt better driving habits and switch off their engines while waiting, in order to reduce the risks associated with breathing in polluted air.  Research carried out by the University of Surrey has found that pollution inside a stationary
car with the engine running is seven times higher than the air pollution outside the car (2). Currently only 15% of drivers regularly switch off their engine when their car is not moving and 20% override their car’s automatic switch off technology (1). Switching off your car engine reduces emissions which brings an important health benefit to everyone inside the car and could save you money on fuel. Leaving the engine running while sitting at the traffic lights or queuing in traffic is often an unconscious, careless action taken without any thought or attention to the potential harm it may cause to your own health or to the health of loved ones. The campaign aims to explain the link between exhaust fumes and poor health, to demonstrate that small actions like switching off your engine can make a difference to your own health and those around you.

Air pollution causes the development of heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer, all of which lead to reduced life expectancy. Funded by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, CAReless Pollution will run until May 2021 and includes events in and around Colchester working closely with local schools and businesses to change people’s car driving behaviour. For more information or to get involved in the campaign please visit:

(1) Clean Air Survey, Colchester Borough Council, October 2019 – January 2020
(2) Concentration dynamics of coarse and fine particulate matter at and around signalised traffic intersections, Kumar P. & Goel A., University of Surrey, 2016

Fiction: If I turn the engine on and off it uses more fuel
Fact: No. According to the RAC, sitting with the engine running for 10 seconds uses more fuel than switching off and on.

Fiction: I can’t switch the engine off as the battery needs to warm up
Fact: Modern car batteries need less engine running time to work and don’t need the engine running constantly to keep them charged.

Fiction: If I switch my car on and off it is bad for the engine
Fact: Leaving the engine idling dirties your engine with incomplete combustion increasing wear and tear. Modern cars have much better ignitions and can be switched on and off without unnecessary wear on the engine.

Fiction: I need to leave the engine running so I can keep the heater on
Fact: It can take up to an hour for the engine to cool down. Turning off the engine but keeping the ignition on with the fan blowing will provide warm air for up to 30 minutes. (Source: Staffordshire
County Council, 2019)

Fiction: If I sit inside my car I am protected from air pollution outside
Fact: Air quality inside a car is up to seven times worse than the air quality outside. This is because you are sitting in a plume of exhaust emitted from the car in front of you, which is sucked through your
car’s ventilation system into your cabin. (Source: Concentration dynamics of coarse and fine particulate matter at and around signalised traffic intersections, Kumar P. & Goel A., 2016)

Fiction: An idling engine doesn’t contribute much to local air pollution
Fact: An idling engine is a significant contributor to local air pollution and can produce up to twice as many exhaust emissions as an engine in motion. Switching off your engine can cut pollution by up to
30% and the effects are immediate. (Source: Bristol City Council, 2018)

Fiction: I’m not breaking the law when I leave my engine running when stationary
Fact: It is an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The Act enforces rule 123 of the Highway Code which states: “You must not leave a vehicle’s engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.”

Fiction: Sitting in my car with the engine running doesn’t directly damage my health
Fact: Air pollution INSIDE a stationary car with the engine running is up to seven times higher than the air pollution outside the car, so drivers and their passengers are unnecessarily breathing in poor quality air. You can take responsibility for your own health by switching off your engine every time you wait. The main source of Colchester’s air pollution is exhaust fumes. Air pollution is recognised as a contributing factor in the development of lung conditions, heart disease and cancer. It also reduces life expectancy and is linked to 1 in 20 deaths in Colchester.

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