We can ill afford further delay on idling engines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 July, 2010, 12:00am

Amid the heat generated by professional drivers criticising the proposed ban on idling engines, Secretary for the Environment Bureau Edward Yau Tang-wah should keep his cool. For it is entirely natural that professional drivers - indeed any road user, pedestrian or outdoor labourer - should complain that roadside temperatures are hot. It is for this reason that makes it even more imperative that the government should go ahead with its ban on idling engines without further delay.

Taxi, minibus and bus drivers are justifiably concerned for their health should they have to sit in their vehicles by the road when temperatures reach over 35 degrees Celsius. The death of an 81-year-old minibus driver after waiting inside his cabin on Friday deserves serious attention, and steps should be taken to ensure there is no repeat. But drivers, lawmakers and ministers should all look at this case with a cool head. We do not yet know the cause of the driver's death. It is unlikely to be due to the fact that he turned off his engine and, therefore, also his air-conditioner. Perhaps unbearable working conditions were a factor? Why might his working conditions have been so bad for his health? Idling engines worsening the air quality and increasing roadside temperatures is one reason.

A ban on idling engines is one small but important step to decreasing roadside temperatures, improving the working conditions for professional road users, and improving the environment generally for us all. Following the ban, there should be a number of supplementary measures, such as continued assessment of the availability of cleaner engines, and better urban planning to create more open spaces with better natural ventilation.

Giving exemptions to professional drivers would defeat the whole purpose of the law. For the public to enjoy cool, clean roads most of the year, but only to see professional drivers start up just as it gets hot, defies all logic. But then again, going on a slow-drive protest emitting pollutants during one of the hottest days of the year to express concern for roadside health defies logic, too. So perhaps it was never their health that drivers were so worried about.