The RAC has welcomed increasing action from councils to tackle engine idling as new research linked even low levels of air pollution with serious heart conditions.
Nottingham City Council has become the latest highway authority to consider enforcing anti-idling legislation.
The council said that it is no longer considering introducing a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) to tackle air pollution, despite previously being one of five cities required by the Government to do so, and has launched a consultation on other measures, including extending its two Air Quality Management Areas to cover the whole city, which it said would allow it to take action against engine idling.
Under the anti-idling measures it is an offence to leave an engine running unnecessarily when stationary and drivers can face a £20 fixed penalty, which can rise to £40 if unpaid, if they do not turn their engine off when told to do so by a police officer or traffic warden.
The Times said that over the past eight months, anti-idling measures have been adopted by councils in Norwich, Wirral and Reading and the London boroughs of Camden and Southwark.
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: ‘With the spotlight firmly on reducing pollution in urban areas, we welcome a focus on reducing unnecessary engine idling. The correct procedure should be for an enforcement officer to ask the driver to switch their engine off and if they refuse, they will be issued a penalty.
'If schemes like this can make enough of a difference in reducing emissions, there may be less of a temptation for local authorities to implement wider charging schemes for drivers.’
Cllr Sally Longford, portfolio holder for energy and environment, said: 'The City Council has a strong track record in improving air quality, having made significant investment to improve public transport, including the tram network, and electric and gas-powered bus fleets, supported by the Workplace Parking Levy.
'We’re also promoting the use of cleaner vehicles through a range of projects, and have invested heavily in the city’s cycle network. It’s thanks to this that regular air monitoring has shown falling levels of air pollution, and more projects already under way will bring this down further – enough to meet the targets set by the Government and, enough that it is no longer necessary to introduce a Clean Air Zone.'
Researchers have found that people exposed to air pollution levels that are well within goverment guidelines still have changes in the structure of the heart that are similar to those seen in the early stages of heart failure.
A study published in the journal Circulation looked at data from around 4,000 participants in the UK Biobank study, where volunteers provided a range of personal information, including their lifestyles, health record and details on where they have lived.
It found a clear association between those who lived near loud, busy roads, and were exposed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or PM 2.5 - small particles of air pollution – and the development of larger right and left ventricles in the heart.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: 'We can’t expect people to move home to avoid air pollution – Government and public bodies must be acting right now to make all areas safe and protect the population from these harms.
‘What is particularly worrying is that the levels of air pollution, particularly PM 2.5, at which this study saw people with heart remodelling are not even deemed particularly high by the UK Government.’