I am baffled both by this column and by many of the comments. The law is likely aimed at safety concerns, mainly because lawmakers don't all understand everything there is to understand about automotive and/or mechanical things. Parked semi trucks are required to have their wheels chocked, even though air brakes have, sine the 1970's worked such that a lack of air applies the brakes. People do, however do things like forgetting to put their vehicle in park (if automatic), or apply the parking brake (if manual), and therefore it became necessary to make a law to require such things in the name of Safety. (This, despite the fact that it was already illegal to be negligent with a motor vehicle.)
Especially with newer cars, letting your car idle to warm up is not exactly necessary. However, the first several minutes of driving should be done gently. Letting a car idle for a long period of time does often allow excess fuel to enter the oil, thereby reducing the lubricity of the engine's oil. That said, idling for a few minutes is not really harmful, and will contribute to somewhat reduced emissions if the vehicle has the opportunity to get out of "open loop" before being driven. Additionally, allowing a vehicle to be fully defrosted and defogged before driving is a significant safety factor. Depending on conditions, there are occasions in which no amount of scraping is going to completely clear the driver's view. Getting into a cold vehicle with a warm body and warm breath can contribute significantly to window fogging as well. Therefore, there are legitimate safety concerns for warming up a vehicle that apply to everyone, not just the elderly. This, not to mention small children who should not be buckled into car seats in bulky outerwear, and therefore should be placed in an already warm vehicle as often as possible.
In some instances, when the driver will be out of the car for only a few minutes, it makes good sense to just leave the car running. Not stopping and starting the car a zillion times can reduce some wear on the engine, as well as save a small amount of emissions since the vehicle will start in open loop every time. Of course, the inverse is true for idling long periods of time, which will increase emissions as well as engine wear. When it is extremely cold, say anytime when the wisest course would be to remain inside but cannot, it is often wise to leave a vehicle running so as to avoid the possibility that it might not restart. This is especially true if there is any indication that there is a problem with the vehicle's charging system or the battery is having a hard time meeting the demands of starting. Clearly, the best thing to do in such a situation is have the vehicle repaired, but there are times when this situation may occur without an opportunity for repair, and in such instance, for human safety, the best course is to leave the vehicle running when possible.
Of course, all situations involving vehicles, idling, and cold weather require common sense and a little bit of true knowledge about how your vehicle works. No law can account for every scenario, nor consider the realities of current, ever-changing technology. It makes the best sense to take the course of action which provides the safest, and most sustainable result. This choice will vary for every situation.
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