As someone who drives into and out of central London quite frequently, I’m as conscious as any road user of the huge traffic congestion that’s a feature of a typical journey, along with consequential environment issues like exhaust emissions and air quality.

So many vehicles, an overloaded transport infrastructure – these are points to ponder as you sit in a rush-hour traffic jam with engine idling, windows shut to insulate you from all that stuff out there, and probably with the climate control set to recirculation.

Although I don’t often suffer the serious jams that are a fixture of the rush-hour traffic reports on Twitter (and on the TV and radio) – I try not to travel during the rush hours so, yes, I’m the luckiest person on the motorways! – whenever I am in one, I’m increasingly thinking of the probable negative environmental impact from vehicle emissions.

You don’t need statistics to tell you that traffic jams + engines idling = something not good for the environment as well as all the creatures that live in it.

So an email the other day from Keith Gardner, Strategy Director at Transport for London, was a timely attention-getter on this subject with a clear call to action:

If you know you are going to be stationary for more than a minute, turning off your engine will reduce harmful emissions. This small change can have a big impact so please help by turning off your vehicle’s engine whilst parked or waiting at the roadside. By doing this we can all breathe cleaner air.

A link in the email leads to a section on the TFL website that contains an infographic, displayed in sections so you can read each element (see the full infographic at the bottom of this page).

A number of things caught my attention about this communication approach to an issue that needs broader awareness:

  • It’s timely and addresses the matter in a way that encourages you to at least take a look at the attractively-designed infographic, and then download a copy yourself or share it with your online networks via the social web including Twitter and Facebook.
  • It talks about a driver-behaviour change – turning off your engine if you’ll be stationary for more than about a minute, addressing some popular myths (stop-start doesn’t damage the starter motor in a modern car, for instance).
  • It presents statistics that will reinforce what you’ve already likely seen elsewhere about the consequences of exhaust emissions, pollution, etc.

Although not mentioned, the TFL’s communication highlights new automotive technology that’s now coming into the mainstream of car offerings – automatic stop-start systems where your engine automatically switches off in specific circumstances and restarts itself when you press in the clutch on a manual-transmission car (I’m not sure how, or even if, that works on an automatic). First introduced some years ago, the tech is being embraced by premium-brand cars (Audi, for example), and is making its way down the pricing chain.

But most people still drive vehicles that don’t have such features, requiring you do it all manually. And that requires a big commitment from drivers to actually do it. Imagine the reaction if you’re the only driver, or one of very few motorists, who has turned off your engine in a traffic jam and it takes you just an extra second or two to get the engine started, into gear and move off. Add road rage to the environmental impact!

Still, communication exercises such as TFL’s must be a good thing as an integral part of other communication and awareness-raising activities if they help raise awareness of the big-picture issue, link it to the local impact of your car’s emissions, and give you an easy solution to actually do something that can make an environmental difference (think of your wallet, too). Whether the TFL’s call to action will be heeded in sufficient numbers to make a measurable difference is another matter.

But what a good (stop-)start!

See the full infographic: