Drivers who leave their car engines idling while stopped could be handed instant fines under new proposals.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove is understood to back calls to give local authorities more sweeping powers to crack down on pollution.
Currently, council officials can only issue a fine if a driver ignores a warning and leaves their car idling for at least a minute. The fine ranges from £20 to £80, depending on which regulations are used to enforce the law.
Authorities and health experts want them to be given power to bypass the warning and issue an instant fine, with one medical campaigner saying that anyone idling their car for more than 30 seconds outside schools or GP surgeries should be fined.
Idling engines can produce more exhaust emissions than a car that is in motion and contribute to the air pollution that is thought to cause 64,000 premature deaths each year.
Westminster City Council is among the authorities which issues idling fines but last year it handed out only 20 such charges. Its leader, Nickie Aiken, said that immediate fines were needed to deal with repeat offenders.
She told the Times: “Fines are our last resort but when we establish a pattern of persistent idling we need to be able to send a message.”
She also suggested that large companies whose drivers persistently leave vehicles idling even after being warned should face four-figure fines as anything less would not be a sufficient deterrent.
Sending a message
Camden Council issued 400 warnings last year but no fines and its cabinet member for environment, Adam Harrison, said that warnings were not enough to change all drivers’ behaviour and that instant fines would send a “very clear message” to motorists.
Jonathan Grigg, a founding member of Doctors Against Diesel and professor of paediatric respiratory medicine at Queen Mary University of London said it was time to move from warnings to standard enforcement. He also called for instant fines for anyone idling for more than 30 seconds near places where vulnerable people such as children and the elderly are exposed to pollution.
Mr Gove said that any new powers would need to be used proportionately but that instant fines for repeat offenders should be considered to cut air pollution.
A Department for Transport spokesperson added: “We are determined to reduce the damaging environmental impacts of drivers who keep their engines running while stationary, especially those in school zones.
“This is why we are making guidance for local authorities clearer, so that they know how and when to target drivers falling foul of the law.
“We will be polling local authorities to understand how any potential review of these powers may look in the future.”