The days when stationary drivers could idle away the time with their engines running appear to be over, at least for their vehicles.
By Catriona Forrest
BBC Scotland news website
Drivers are asked to either switch off their engine or move away
Emissions control officers have started to pound the streets of Scottish towns and cities in an attempt to reduce pollution from engines left ticking over by motorists.
They have the power to carry out roadside emissions tests or, as is more often the case, tap on windows and tell drivers to switch off or face a fine of £20 and upwards.
In Scotland, all local authorities can apply for powers to carry out roadside emissions testing under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions Scotland) Regulations 2003.
Environmental health officer Jacqueline Murray carries out regular stationary idling and roadside emissions patrols within East Dunbartonshire Council's Air Quality Management Area.
She works in partnership with Strathclyde Police officers who assist in her checks.
These patrols began in January 2007 when the Scottish Executive granted East Dunbartonshire Council powers which would allow it to use the act.
The engine idling patrols target problem areas such as near school gates, outside sheltered accommodation, in bus stations and areas where complaints have been received.
In one 45-minute patrol outside a school in East Dunbartonshire, the environmental health officer issued 15 warnings to motorists.
Since the patrols began, only two fixed penalty notices have been served on drivers for stationary idling and, according to Ms Murray, both of these were served on bus drivers.
She said that in most cases motorists are obliging and switch their engines off immediately and so no penalty notices are issued.
Many road users are unaware of the change in legislation
Some parents on the school run tend to wait for their children with their engines on, so officers explain the reason for the patrols and then ask them to switch off, before handing out leaflets outlining the legislation.
One parent parked while waiting to collect her child from school was surprised to have received a warning from the environmental health officer.
She said: "I arrive early so as to find a parking space near the school and usually keep my engine on in order to run the air conditioning."
The driver of a van expressed annoyance over the warning he had received.
He said: "I don't think it's right that they are handing out tickets for having your engine on.
"It's just another excuse for the police to give tickets and to stop people, especially young men. It's an excuse to extract cash."
Ed Dearnley, policy officer for the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NCSA), said that air quality remains a serious problem in Scotland, despite reductions in emissions from homes, industry and vehicles.
He said it was interesting how relatively few local authorities UK-wide had adopted the stationary idling powers.
He said: "Across Europe air pollution is estimated to reduce the average life expectancy by eight months.
"The problem cannot be solved via technical fixes to vehicles and chimney stacks alone, and we need to look at how other solutions can assist."
"For the car driver a rough rule of thumb is to switch off your engine if you know you're going to be stopped for more than 30 seconds."
Exhaust emissions have been linked to respiratory illness and cancer
Mr Dearnley dismissed as myth the idea that you use more fuel or cause more emissions to restart an engine, especially in modern vehicles.
Vehicle designs are starting to reflect drivers' concern for emissions, with some Citroen and BMW series featuring an automatic engine 'start/stop system'.
The function automatically switches off the engine when the car is at a standstill and the clutch is not operated and starts it again as soon as the clutch is operated.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) congratulated the councils for setting up stationary idling patrols.
She said: "Pollution can have serious effects on the health of people in Scotland, especially the most vulnerable members of society."
According to Sepa, a three-way catalytic converter can reduce nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon emissions by 90%, but engine idling will prevent the converter from working properly.
Gary Wilson, transport manager for Allander Coaches, said that local councils had kept his company well informed about the legislation when it came into force and it had not received any penalty notices for stationary idling.
Mr Wilson said that switching off engines was not a major problem for his coach drivers, although it could take up to a minute to build up the air pressure required to operate the braking systems and doors.
He said: "It's in our drivers' daily job instructions that they don't sit with their engines running, especially when they are on the school runs."
Mr Wilson added that he believed the stationary idling patrols would be beneficial in the long run.