Don’t Drive Through

December 27th, 2013 BY Amber Cowie | 8 Comments

On my way to work yesterday morning, I was perplexed to see a SmartCar join the ever present ranks of other vehicles idling in line at the Tim Horton’s drive-thru window near my work. The drive-thru never fails to irritate me—the choice of convenience over carbon dioxide emissions is a pet peeve—but the presence of the car that had specifically been designed to reduce vehicle emissions in a line-up that does nothing but pollute the air for the sake of a double double was bewildering.

Drive-thru windows are a huge source of vehicle emissions in cities around the world, but particularly in North America, where citizens rely heavily on personal vehicles as their primary form of transportation. A study carried out by Central Massachusetts University determined that during an average day at a McDonald’s drive-thru, 272 cars and 131 trucks passed through the takeout lane. Cars spent 1,539 minutes idling, while trucks spent 698 minutes idling. The average daily release of emissions at that particular restaurant was determined to be 10,704.4 grams, and the total annual emissions was determined to be 3,906.7 kilograms using EPA idling data.

Activists in Hamilton, ON, are encourage their municipal leaders to curb emissions in their city by adopting a multi-faceted plan that bans drive-thrus, curbside idling, gas-powered lawn machines such as leaf-blowers and weed-whackers. The plan also involves positive measures—like doubling the city’s tree canopy to increase shade within the city’s limits and increasing the mass transit system. But it’s the immediate moratorium on drive-thru windows and the plan over time to eliminate those in current operation that got the greatest reaction from city planners and the general public. Even though the lack of drive-thru windows would decrease emissions, encourage drivers to adopt healthier habits and eliminate a great deal of noise pollution in crowded business areas, many Hamiltonians remain unconvinced that a ban on drive-thrus would improve their city. The city is still debating the proposal—first put forward in December 2006—and it is scheduled to go vote sometime in 2007.

It is not just Ontarians who are refusing to stop at drive-thru bank tellers, coffee vendors or fast food hawkers. The Natural Resources Canada division of the federal government launched an anti-idling campaign in 2001 to help educate Canadians about the myths surrounding idling in colder climates. Their campaign focuses heavily on what is good for your vehicle—and your wallet. More than 10 seconds of idling in a car uses more fuel than shutting it off and restarting it when needed. Restarting your car has little impact on the starter, fuel pump and ignition system. Any wear and tear incurred is more than made up in the fuel savings. More than anything, cars and trucks are not designed to idle. Excessive idling can cause grease, grime and othe build-up to accumulate on spark-plugs and other engine parts.

So, next time you’re in a rush to get a coffee, beat the smog-filled line-up snaking around the building and just park. Chances are, you’ll be in and out faster than you would if you were still waiting in the drive-thru.

  1. Timetrvlr

    Good article! Idling in the Drive Through is just one of the many mindless ways we waste fuel dump hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. Another that I often see is people “warming up” their cars in cold weather. It is totally unnecessary and is hard on the engine.

  2. Northman

    The sight of a Smart Car anywhere (including a line-up) gladdens my heart – somebody got the message and cared enough to purchase a vehicle that sips fuel rather than gulp it like the huge 3/4 ton 350 hp dual rear wheel monster pickup trucks that idle in a lineup at Tim Hortons! These things that people buy for their ego and personal cruising enjoyment rather than for commercial use should never be sold to buyers who can’t prove that they will be used strictly for business!

  3. FUoceansideCA

    thanks for helping me on my project

  4. Timetrvlr

    Re:Northmans comments above. Why would anyone buy a Smartcar when, for about the same money, they could buy a Toyota Prius and get better fuel economy, more room, more respect, and have a car that will shut off the engine in the drive through?

  5. Simon

    its all good and easy to say don’t do this; but in reality a lot of planning is involved, with drive thru’s, maybe there are limits to parking? maybe people cant stop and enjoy a meal and have to eat on the run… consider this, driving around for 5-15 mins trying to find a parking spot to just drop in and get a meal, then leave.

  6. Sophia Antonio

    hey thanks for sharing that! I must say I am one of those who patronizes drive thru’s . Although, Simon is right, parking is quite a problem also, specially if you’re in a rush. Well, just a little sacrifice to become more eco friendly.

  7. Bill Sieber

    I have a problem with your article. The most inefficient thing a internal combustion engine does is start. It takes a lot of extra fuel to start an engine and the amount of pollutants are very high because the pollution control methods are only efficient when the exhaust system is hot. Do you know if idling is worse than stopping and starting a car? Would it also depend on how long they spend idling?

    What bothers me is that no one is putting the scientific method to this. The assumption is that if the car is running it is worse for the environment than if it stops and starts. I don’t believe that to be true. A real environmentalist would base their opinions in fact. Guessing is never good.

    How much carbon would be released if the car had to shut off and restart? That is what we need to know in order to determine if your pet peeve is valid. We would also have to consider how long people drove around looking for parking, what increase in the parking lot would be required, (lots of carbon used to make parking lots) if the restaurant did not have drive through and even how long on average people idled their car before leaving the lot after getting their food. Given all the cars and trucks on the road,I also have a problem with your position that drive-thrus are a huge source of carbon. My question to you is compared to what?

    If you are really serious about the environment, then I would hope you would look into the facts. In this case, I am guessing you don’t know if idling is better or worse for the environment. I am guessing you are only trying to offer solutions to the environmental problems, but we need real solutions that are well thought out. As I have pointed out, you don’t have enough information to know if drive-thrus are a source of greater pollution or not.

  8. Linda

    I totally agree with Bill. We can’t just ban drive-thru based on guess. There is no scientific prove that drive-thru idling causes more pollution than driving around to find a parking lot, then stop to buy food, then restart the car to drive away.

    It is just like, there are lots of cars idle waiting on the road for the traffic in some particular city, but should those cities ban the car selling.

    There is always demand and supply. People should pay more attention on how to improve drive-thru efficiency to decrease car idling time instead of banning it.

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