What is Government’s Role?

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A sign stating it is law to not allow your car motor to idle while stopped

This sign is from the city of Vancouver in British Columbia and it’s purpose is to inform motorists that letting their cars idle is against the law and punishable by a fine of $50 to $100.

Vancouver’s “Motor Vehicle Noise and Emission Abatement By-Law No. 9344″ [PDF] went into effect in Spring of this year after being adopted in July, 2006.

Here are some details:

“2.7 A person must not cause or permit a motor vehicle to idle:
(a) for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60 minute period; or
(b) while unattended and unlocked.

The City’s stated goals for the bylaw are to:

  • protect air quality
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduce urban noise
  • reduce vehicle theft
  • save money on fuel.



The website Trans-Talk has details on how it’s been going, along with some good reference information other towns in Canada (and even some in the US) that have similar laws.

What do you think? Should we push to change our laws to force behaviors that are good for the environment? Or should government stay off our backs and allow people to do what they want?

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43 thoughts on “What is Government’s Role?

  1. Without the government passing laws to force people to change, they won’t. It’s nice to think they may, but let’s get real — of course the government has to get involved.

  2. Keep the government out of our business — we have enough problems.

    The government can’t make people do things they don’t want to — people have to make their own minds up to make changes.

  3. I disagree. I might agree if this were a perfect world, and every person knew everything about all the products and consumables out there, and what happens to the waste these things might produce. The problem is that very little available to people ever comes with the proper tags. What I mean is, take a regular “Swiffer cloth” commercial on TV — the emphasis is on its use, and its disposable “purpose”. But is it biodegradable? What happens to it when it’s thrown out? What is it made of? Have you ever seen a car commercial that says “this car expels (x) milligrams of carbon monoxide while idling, and (y) milligrams of it in stop and go traffic, and (z) milligrams when the temperature and humidity is (a) and (b)?”

    I understand that the government has taken many steps to put labels like that on cigarettes, and many people still choose to smoke. That is their right, and these people are completely informed of their choices. But I never see “take the bus!” commercials on TV, so why wouldn’t people want cars? They don’t completely know the depth of the options truly available to them.

    I guess this has digressed from idling laws. I agree with them. It’s bad enough that having to stand on a street corner at a stop light is probably going to leave me with lung cancer when I get older, why WOULDN’T you want to turn your engine off while you’re waiting for your kids to come out of the school? Little lungs want fresh air, too.

  4. It makes me sad to see that this kind of progressive legislation is within reach, but that we don’t care enough here in America to do anything. I might just have to emigrate to see any progress.

  5. It’s all in the framing. Either you believe the government is “intruding” on your private life by denying you the right to make your own decisions, or you believe the government is “protecting” you by ensuring you do something smart / safe / economical that you might not think to do on your own.

    If people DID think on their own, we’d have much less need for intrusions like this.

    Of course, if people DID think on their own, we’d need a lot less protection, too…

  6. It is actually more harmful for a car’s engine (thus increase wear n tear) for someone to keep turning it on/off … there are bound to be an increase in ‘starter motors’ being replaced! *rolls eyes* There is a place for government to help us to “keep green” as here in Australia we have water restrictions due to environmental factors and so forth… so anyway… why not REWARD good behaviour instead of inventing laws and more fines/penalties and kinda rewarding BAD behaviour in a way. The Gov’t should focus on subsidies and so forth so it eases the one major hurdle for people to “go green”… money. If you can help relieve them of some of that cost thru cashback and/or subsidies etc.. people will easily go ahead and “go green”.

    This is my opinion only tho’.

  7. It’s really frustrating to see people so happy to let the government control their lives. I like Vanessa’s comment about rewarding good behavior instead of punishing ‘bad’ behavior. There’s plenty of ways to make change in the world without shoving it down people’s throats with legislation.

    Usually when someone says ‘There oughta be a law!’, there really shouldn’t.

  8. Cory -

    The government already tells you where you can and can’t build houses, how fast you can drive on the road, which direction you can drive on the road, etc. etc.. It is already controlling our lives, and it’s ruining the environment. If residential and commercial would be allowed to co-exist on the same block we would have far more smaller stores within walking distance, rather than sprawling suburbs and the nearest store being a minimum 10 minute drive.

    Also, if anyone’s read any of my other comments, you’ll see that it really all comes down to a multi-pronged approach, for lack of a better adjective. There should be rewards for good behaviour, but high costs/punishments associated with the undesirable behaviour. Make it far easier/convenient to take transit or to bike, and much more expensive/inconvenient to drive. Start charging drivers parking fees to drive to the suburban mall — the prices at the stores will lower because now their rent/overhead is reduced, they aren’t subsidizing the parking.

    I think we’ve been allowed “free will” for far too long, and now the environment is suffering because of it. I think that it’s less letting the government turn us into puppets (an extreme view, don’t you think?) and aggressive legislation such as this is the only proven method of getting the change we need to occur. Furthermore, I feel far more controlled by governments that are bowing down to car use, building highways, tearing up woodlands, adding sidewalks in as an afterthought, than I would by having restrictions on my water and energy use.

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  10. “I think we’ve been allowed “free will” for far too long,”

    Jessica, I can’t begin to express my sadness to hear a fellow human being say that. It’s not anger I feel to hear such things, it’s utter and complete disappointment.
    I can’t think of any situation that should require the loss of free will among people. Take a look at mainstream culture today. The vast majority of people accept the concept of human involvement in global temperature change.
    That’s possible by creating awareness, and opportunity for involvement at a grass-roots level. In time, much of what climatologists are requesting will come to pass. There will not be a need to invade on the sanctity of personal freedom to ‘save the planet’ (which will be fine no matter what we do to it, it’s ourselves we should be looking out for).

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  15. Local city governments should be able to regulate as much as they like. It is the role of local government to regulate their local areas. So, I think if the people of that area want this law then it seems like a good law to me. There’s a lot of valid reasons for it.

    The problem I have is when one massive central federal government tries to regulate the smallest behaviors and morality for 300 million people. In short, yes, this should be and is the role of local government. But, is not the role and should not be the role of the central federal government.

  16. @Vanessa Stacy re: wear and tear

    That’s just plain wrong. If it was true, hybrids would need new starter motors monthly.

    On the question, of course government has to get involved. Most people are too lazy or dumb to be left to there own devices.

  17. Can I dump my garbage onto your front lawn just because it’s convenient for me? Or does government have a duty to protect your rights, as well as a duty to not interfere with mine?

    Why should I have any more right to dump garbage into other people’s air?

    If you are against all law, and believe in total anarchy, then objection to this law is at least consistent. If laws against polluting the air that other people breathe are an infringement on individual rights, then so are laws against theft, rape, and dumping garbage on somebody else’s lawn.

    Very few human beings want to be robbed, beaten, raped or killed. Some, however, are quite willing to rob, beat, rape, and kill others. None of us objects to police enforcing laws to protect the majority of us from the minority that puts their own gratification above anybody else’s rights.

    Almost every human belong wants to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Many don’t want to give up any of our accustomed pleasures and conveniences in order to avoid dirtying the air and water ourselves. It is just as justifiable to use the force of law to control the behavior of those who place their own gratification above the rights of everyone else to clean air, as it is to use the force of law to control those who place their own gratification above our rights to not have garbage dumped on our lawn.

  18. The only thing the government should do is to protect our basic rights, and that’s about it. If you think about it, the government is nothing but just a bunch of filthy politicians. Government also keeps us in this trouble. We rely on them to help us out in a jiffy nowadays. If we were used to taking care of our own problems maybe we’d actually be smarter, and not ignorant as we are now, and then when a scientist says that global warming is effecting us, the general population will get the general idea, and do something about it, because they know the government isn’t going to do anything about it, they have to. But right now, we depend on the government to take care of us.

  19. Get real folks. Stopping and re-starting your car engine uses more gas and emits more CO2 than sitting at idle, any tech will tell ya that.

    It’s time to tell these people who “know better” than us “dumb folk” where to put there regulations (which they don’t live by).

    I feel sorry for the kids who think big brother has the answer. Freakin’ wake up people!

  20. The GOVERNMENT is us morons. WE are the government. If the evil GOVERNMENT is telling us what to do, that’s us telling us what to do, not some magical evil third party that we should blame all of our shortcomings on.

    It’s really disappoints me more people don’t grasp this concept.
    We own the land, air, rivers and oceans both as individuals and as citizens of a democracy. So, of course the government can tell us what to do. If it couldn’t then why would it exist at all. The fact that this ability to intelligently regulate ones self can be extended to national interest should not perplex the average joe.

    If dumping septic in your backyard is bad for you, then guess what, it’s bad for me too, and it’s bad for you entire nation. Hence we have zonling laws, which most talkative internet hacks don’t realize are quite strict government regulations in effect for over half a century to protect citizens.

    In this instance this regulation might be kind of stupid, but if it’s ruled upon by the majority and stands the test of their will, then it’s law, end of story. You need not ponder the rational or morality of law, because majority rule does not require either.

    We can regulate, great tax incentive, charge explicit costs, because it’s the taxplayers air, rivers and oceans that are being polluted.

    Do you want lead and arsenic levels left unregulated, so strip mines can just destroy your county or state and poison you and your children because that’s why these types of laws came to be. When left unregulated corporations always take the path of most profit and since they also own the media it makes it especially hard to create awareness.

    Put a price tag on your nation at the very least, don’t give corporations the right to pollute our nation at no direct cost to them or in proportion to how much they pollute. Someone is going to pay to clean all that up, guess who, the taxpayer. Charging for pollution only makes sense just as charging for trash collection makes sense. Sure, some insignificant amount of the public things they’d be better off not being forced to pay trash collection, but if their house is on fire all of a sudden privatized fire departments paied for with tax money are a great idea. For those of you who don’t know, you used to have to pay or subscrie to the fire department or they’d just let your house burn down. Yea, and children used to be able to work 12 hour days. When dealing with corporations you can’t give them an inch, they are shrewd, lacking in morality and completely selfish. Nasty, brutish and short if you know your economics. Without socialism aka governmentr regulation or very VERY savy buyers pure capitlistic pracices will amount to corporatism and facism. We used laws like child labor laws, 8 hour workday, workmems comp, min wage, to keep corporate greed from devouring the nation. If you don’t believe it, read your nations history a few more times and look through the legislation and the past working history of American’s corproations and the working class before the evil socilist laws we enacted to protect them.

    Much of leaving Europe was to seek opportunity, not fall back into the grips of the aristocracy and it’s perpetual wealth from the crippled hands and broken backs of the working class.

  21. Canadians are not as paranoid about our government as Americans are. And with good reason. Our MPs are elected civil servants not millionaire oligarchs. We expect parliament to be an expression of the common will. As such, we expect it to collect taxes and redistribute some of our personal wealth to help the common good. We bitch terribly when this process is done in a suboptimal manner (as it often is). At the same time though we take for granted that all citizens are IN FACT equal under the law, that we all have Charter Rights no matter what (even if convicted of a felony), and that our State is not a threat to the safety of citizens. If I were an American, I’d want to have a VERY MINIMAL government too. But don’t project your woes onto another country. We are not THAT alike.

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  23. No, the government has no right to tell me that I can’t have sex with five-years old, or rob banks (while having sex with five-years old). Butt out of my life.

    What do you think, hm? We’re facing a dire threat to our very existence, our civilization, and it’s not coming from some lunatics living in a cage. (Even if -IF- there is a slight chance that the Global Warming isn’t happening, it’s still irresponsible not to address it.)
    When your cities are under the sea, and billions died of starvation, you can tell your grandchildren, that you’re proud that you didn’t let the government push you around. I think they’ll love you for that. Or blow your brain out.

  24. Didn’t anyone ever hear that it takes more gas to start your car, than it does to idle? For at least ten minutes, I’d say. Maybe more, maybe less. But three minutes is ridiculous. What happens when you’re stuck in traffic?

    These types of laws are inane. To fix the problem you must fix the reliance on fossil fuels.

    Besides the fact that we have numerous records of the earth going through regular warming and cooling phases. And, far from coincidental, we’re nearing a change period.

  25. this is a stupid conversation. it is already against the law to idle engines in most states in the US, for good reason. the false arguments posted above referencing wear and tear and fuel consumption are quite dated and erroneous since the intro of electronic ignition.
    running your auto engine is evil enough when you’re actually moving — when you’re not even moving, it is just evil for its own sake.

  26. The government should stay off our backs. Whether idling your car is ok, bad, or horrible, the government should not be in control of whether or not one idles his car. That’s my opinion. However, the U.S. federal government certainly should not be involved in whether or not one idles his car. This area does not fall under its constitutional jurisdiction.

  27. It’s always funny (and scary) to hear about Americans talk about Government involvement in their lives. No other country in the western world has such fear of its own government. Especially here in Canada. If they don’t do our biding then they will pay the consequences plain and simple.

    On the other hand, I think Americans have every reason to fear their government. What bothers me is how people lash out at “government control” of their lives instead of the real evil, which is that you have a government that you fear and can’t trust.

    So what’s the real problem America? Wake up. Real Democracy flourishes in the rest of the Western World. It’s not perfect but it works quite well. We don’t fear our governments nor do we have any reason to. The problem isn’t too much government control, it’s governments that can’t be trusted to do what best for it’s own people because the system is BROKEN.

    Think about it. Why do you fear the very people you are (supposedly) in charge of? Why?

  28. Purpose of Governement and balance between freedom and obligation is simple. The people should be allowed to do anything they want as long as it doesn’t harm others. Unfortunately we are destroying the planet at such an alarming rate that it is necessary for governement to identify those things that cause most harm and that can be changed by passing laws.

  29. * protect air quality
    * reduce greenhouse gas emissions
    – Air quality would still be an issue even if every driver
    throughout the history of car ownership never idled their
    cars, what about car shops that are doing testing and
    repairs?!?!?! What a bunch of idiots!

    Please search online for the latest technologies developed to
    filter out greenhouse gases.

    * reduce urban noise
    – I hardly doubt that can be considered a problem unless most of
    the cars over there are loud no muffler, or has a cherry bomb,
    highly doubt it.

    * reduce vehicle theft
    – Have a spare of extra keys and lock your doors dumb ass!

    * save money on fuel.
    – After the car owner buys their fuel its their responsibility
    on how its used.

    To you sympathizers in favor of the government wiping your ass everyday need to immediately relocate to some remote uninhabited location far from the rest of us independent adults where you may establish a government that provides by law daily adult day & night butt wiping for idiots since you can’t seem to take care of yourself….:P

    Markus, you will represent the masses in this new land you lame!

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  31. Human laws and restraints to help control a changing eco-system? Those of you that agree that we need laws to try to help control the planetary climate and horribly arrogant. Here’s an idea. The next time you think of global climate change, think back to 4th grade science when the teacher told you about the life cycle of that huge round glowing disc in the sky. And stop being so foolish and over zealous as to think you can control an eco system by stopping an insigificant amount of emissions. Idling cars? Seriously? What’s next? Breathing? Oh wait, that’s been proposed. Taxing breathing. You “expert on …” loving, government tit sucking fools will buy into that one too.

  32. Unfortunately, modern humanoids’ “better angels” flew the coop a long time ago. I’m supposed to trust the average citizen to do the right thing? I don’t think so. So yes, legislate progressively and aggressively. It’s the same basic argument against libertarianism and the main reason I’m not fully supporting Ron Paul: Do we really want individual states — let’s take Louisiana for example, site of the current Jena 6 abomination — making their own laws on civil rights? On what to teach in the classroom? On a woman’s right to choice? I sure as hell don’t. People love blaming a corrupt government that’s in bed with industry and a complicit media for “brainwashing” the populace. Bullshit! The average American needs to pull their head out of their ass and get informed. One thing they do understand is money: start doling out tickets and people will definitely change their behaviors.

  33. @DoubleD

    You’re full of it. In a modern car it’s better to turn your car off for any idling longer than 3 to 10 seconds. That why hybrids work. They turn their engines off all the time.

    If your “tech” is telling you that stopping and restarting uses more gas, he’s an idiot

  34. @ Phetops = The funny thing about the so-called nanny-state democracies that we see in Canada, the UK, and much of Western Europe is that not only do they do well economically (see the latest stats on the BBC) but they also produce some of the most remarkable INDIVIDUALS one can meet. Their citizens are often articulate, rebelious, engaged and unique — and I’m talking about the working class here. People I’m proud to hold the same union card with. By contrast, the USA, for all of its touted ‘individualism’ is dominated by a deeply conformist technocolour monoculture where real attempts at individualism and self-expression are quickly ground down and suppressed or reduced to a lowest common denominator (unless it’s marketable). Try having a serious conversation in the inland USA — people typically say something lame like ‘i have a right to my opinion and you to yours’ and move on. That’s if they can respond at all. I’m not exactly clear on what Marcus is supposed to be learning from such glowing examples of free thought?

    As for the role of government, etc. = peoples have exactly the government they deserve. Character (in this case national character) is fate.

  35. Thought Criminal,

    you are so right – we should all be basing our knowledge of climate change on 4th grade teachrs, not meticulous discussion by panels of internationally-renowned scientists.

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  37. “We the People” have given our government total control over itself.
    The average American citizen has really no say in what our government does or does not do.We do have the right to change “OUR” government if we so chose…but when you give complete control to the government to “govern” itself it becomes near impossible to change by the average citizen.It IS our constitutional right to change,fix or make a new government if our current one becomes corrupt.That was the idea that our forefathers had when they created
    “OUR” government.But since we’ve handed over “OUR” control more and more over the years,”OUR” governments role is to control us.And it will continue to be this way.It’s too late for us to take back control of “OUR” government here is the States.”We the People” is dead….that saying should be forgotten.Any attempt to take back what is supposed to be “OURS” in the first place will only lead to bloodshed.After all….why would a government that has control over it’s people want to give up that control?So we should just let the government decide what it wants for us and leave it at that.No one is willing to do anything about it anyway except talk…..and maybe in due time we will loose control of that right too.

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