To idle your car or not to idle? Any longer than 5 minutes and you could be fined

Jayne B. Stearns

Let's talk about idling cars, shall we?


Because a few days ago, a neighbor, who is disabled and who hires a medical transportation company to take her to her medical appointments, was handed a sticker with the words, "THIS IS A NO IDLING ZONE," as she headed to her transport vehicle which was idling in the street outside her home.

The transport driver received the same sticker. Unfortunately, the gentleman neighbor who felt it was his environmental duty to give out these stickers to allegedly offending parties banged loud enough on the driver's side window that the transport driver thought she was being shot. Although she drives for a transport company, this driver had no idea there were any anti-idling laws or idle-free zones in the town. She thought the guy was just being an over-zealous jerk.

Was this altercation necessary? And is there an anti-idling law in Massachusetts?

No, and yes.

Yes, there is an anti-idling law in Massachusetts. And twenty-nine other states have also adopted anti-idling laws.

No, the altercation probably wasn't necessary. Education would have been more fruitful and less threatening for all concerned.

The law

The state of Massachusetts limits idling to 5 minutes. That's it. The differences between states and their anti-idling laws concern:

  • the actual amount of time one can idle their car
  • the temperature outside
  • the purpose of the vehicle while idling

Although there are exclusions to the Massachusetts law, most of the exclusions are based upon common sense.

Here is the Massachusetts Anti-idling Law. Your town may have its own ordinance. There are penalties for breaking this law: $100 for the first offense and $500 for each succeeding one.

§ 16A. Unnecessary Operation of Engine of Stopped Motor Vehicle Prohibited; Exceptions; Penalty. No person shall cause, suffer, allow or permit the unnecessary operation of the engine of a motor vehicle while said vehicle is stopped for a foreseeable period of time in excess of five minutes. This section shall not apply to (a) vehicles being serviced, provided that operation of the engine is essential to the proper repair thereof, or (b) vehicles engaged in the delivery or acceptance of goods, wares, or merchandise for which engine assisted power is necessary and substitute alternate means cannot be made available, or (c) vehicles engaged in an operation for which the engine power is necessary for an associate power need other than movement and substitute alternate power means cannot be made available provided that such operation does not cause or contribute to a condition of air pollution. Whoever violates any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars for the first offense, nor more than five hundred dollars for each succeeding offense.

Exclusions to the anti-idling law in MA

Everything has exclusions including laws. Massachusetts is no different. According to the website, while the law does prohibit unnecessary idling, it also recognizes that there are times when idling is simply unavoidable and lists three specific exemptions:

  • when an engine is being repaired and operating the engine is necessary for the repair
  • when a vehicle is making deliveries and associated power is necessary
  • and when the engine is used to provide power to another device

Here are examples of the above exclusions that shouldn't be seen as reportable violations and which are considered necessary:

  • Running the engine to operate the windshield defroster to clear a windshield of ice on an extremely cold day. It’s a safety problem if you cannot see where you’re going and if the windshield is not warm enough to melt snow and freezing rain while driving.
  • Running the engine while actively clearing snow and ice off the vehicle and to warm the windshield and interior of the vehicle is necessary idling. Some heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, may need some additional time to bring interior temperatures into a comfortable range.
  • Delivering goods and passengers.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eliminating personal vehicle idling would be equivalent to taking 5 million vehicles off the road, while nearly three times as many people - roughly 100,000 - die from air-pollution-related deaths compared with fatalities from car accidents. So, emissions are a problem, and being mindful of when it's necessary to idle your car and when it's not, can only help our environment.

Still, remember to educate others with respect when the opportunity presents itself. And use common sense.


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Jayne is a freelance writer, poet, and award-winning playwright specializing in writing human interest stories and anything else that satisfies a multitude of curiosities. Jayne is also a passionate advocate for recovery. You can email Jayne here:

Holyoke, MA

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