VIDEO | Physicians call for red day drive-through ban

Physicians call for red day drive-through ban

June 29th, 2009 @ 6:00pm

By John Hollenhorst


SALT LAKE CITY — A battle is shaping up over drive-through windows. A proposed ordinance would require you to get out of your car and go inside the business on bad air days.

"It’s just a matter of: Are people willing to make a modest, a small-to-modest sacrifice to improve the air quality? We certainly hope so," said Dr. Brian Moench, spokesman for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

The idea popped up Monday on the first red-alert ozone day of the summer season, and it drew a quick rebuttal from the restaurant industry.

This year, ozone arrived a month later than usual thanks to our wet, cool weather. Now heat and sunlight are starting to create ozone chemically from pollutants, at least one-third of which come from vehicle exhaust.

"If we just quit driving or reduce the amount of driving that we do when we’re on red days or yellow days, that will, of course, reduce the effects of ozone," said Bowen Call, manager of the Utah Division of Air Quality’s Air Monitoring Center.

A package of red day strategies has been promoted by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, including:

  • Free mass transit
  • Lower freeway speeds
  • Programs encouraging parents to walk their kids to school

Now the group is proposing city and county ordinances requiring a shutdown of drive-through windows on bad-air days.

"Not shut down their business, but just shut down their drive-through portion of it. That wouldn’t be an economic sacrifice to anybody. It would be just a little walking," Moench explained.

Dr. Howie Garber, who is also with the physician’s group, said, "I think it serves a purpose to get people to shut off their cars more often and to get them to think about making a small personal sacrifice."

But the restaurant industry says companies like McDonalds have done studies showing it does not reduce emissions when customers walk inside.

"You’ve created more emissions by turning off and then restarting, actually more pollution goes into the air by doing that than waiting in line and going through a drive-through," said Melva Sine, president and CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association.

But the doctors say it’s worth a try because ozone is so unhealthy. "It’ll rust metal, it will rust stone and it burns plants. Well, it does that to your lungs," Moench said.

Restaurateurs say the proposal would cripple a growing industry. "The economic impact would be huge," Sine said.

Similar drive-through bans have provoked a lot of controversy in other cities, particularly in Canada. In fact, in Toronto if you’re caught idling too long at a drive-through, you can get a fine of $125 dollars — that’s an expensive cheeseburger.


“Climate policy is characterized by the habituation of low expectations and a culture of failure. There is an urgent need to understand global warming and the tipping points for dangerous impacts that we have already crossed as a sustainability emergency that takes us beyond the politics of failure-inducing compromise. We are now in a race between climate tipping points and political tipping points.”
David Spratt, Philip Sutton, Climate Code Red, Australia, Published July, 2008

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