Motorists on-board with stricter action against vehicle emissions

Motorists across the UK are showing a rising concern for poor air quality levels and are calling for stronger action to be taken to reduce vehicle pollution in those worst affected areas, a new survey conducted by the RAC has found.

A new report by the RAC released on Thursday (17 November) asked 1,714 British motorists to share their thoughts and opinions regarding topics such as local air quality and pollution from diesel emissions. The survey found that most motorists want charges and outright bans imposed on the dirtiest vehicles.

RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “Our research indicates motorists, who are sometimes seen as the enemy when it comes to air quality, actually want to see more done to improve poor air quality that is blighting some local areas – suggesting they want to be part of the solution themselves. But we need a considered and consistent approach to tackling the problem.

“Today’s vehicles are the cleanest ever and even the latest diesels, which have come under the spotlight over the last 12 months, emit a tiny fraction of the nitrogen dioxide and particulates compared to previous generations of diesel vehicles. But we are concerned that some of the incentives to encourage motorists to make the switch from older, less efficient vehicles are fading away.”

The survey found that 55% of motorists would support either charges or an outright ban on high-emitting vehicles from entering highly-polluted areas. When accounting for those that live in towns and city centres, the figure rises to 57%.

Also, more than half of drivers (57%) showed support for charges being levied on diesel vehicles that do not comply with latest Euro 6 emission standards – which applies to all models sold from 1 January 2015 – when entering cities and towns.

The opinion unfortunately goes against the market trend. T&E research discovered that all of the largest brands are currently exceed NOx limits. The two worst offenders – Renault-Nissan and Fiat & Suzuki – are, on average, emitting 14 and 15 times the Euro 6 limit with their diesel models.

The opinions are reflective of a rising concern from motorists surrounding air quality, with four in ten motorists saying they were more concerned about local air quality now than they were 12 months ago. This figure rises to 52% when just accounting for those living in urban areas.

In response to the findings, Friends of the Earth’s air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said: “Motorists are right to demand action on dirty air, as people in vehicles can actually be exposed to more air pollution than those walking or cycling the same street.

“With even motorists wanting the dirtiest vehicles kept out of the most polluting places, the government must stop dragging its heels and make sure Clean Air Zones are introduced across all our cities and major towns, along with a diesel scrappage scheme to help motorists move to clean vehicles and to alternatives to driving.”

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Measures such as the plug-in grant scheme, which has encouraged uptake of over 50,000 vehicles since its introduction in 2011 and the Vehicle Exercise Duty – which will be seeing potential changes to remove its tax benefit for consumers purchasing EVs over £40,000 – could make a difference, but are in danger of losing support.

The report has therefore suggested that there has “never been a better time” for the Government to take lead and implement a long-term solution that will incentivise the transition to low emissions vehicles.

According to Bizley, local authorities could notify residents in times of particularly poor air quality, encouraging people to seek alternative travel options and also investigate the extent of idling engines and traffic congestion on local air pollution.

Areas adopting Clean Air-Zones should provide residents and businesses with sufficient time to adopt cleaner vehicle alternatives, with the RAC suggesting it is “unreasonable” to penalise diesel vehicle owners without considering the difficulties in investing in new consumer of fleet vehicle solutions.

Steps being taken

Steps towards tackling UK air pollution have already begun with ClientEarth recently winning its High Court case against the UK Government over the failure of ministers to tackle illegal air quality levels across the country.

Because of this ruling, new proposals will now be subject to strict and urgent review, including potential restrictions being imposed on older, more polluting vehicles – a necessity to imposing the strict framework that the RAC supports.

Additionally, the government has been stepping up its commitment to Clean Air Zones recently with last year’s proposals requiring UK cities with poor air quality to create these zones and London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s pledge to tackle London’s soaring air pollution levels.

Alex Baldwin

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