In January 2020, the UK government approved a new Clean Air Zone plan in Birmingham – a radical proposal which would see all private cars banned from the city centre by 2031. It’s hoped the plan will reduce the level of emissions in the city, but what does it mean for drivers? And is it the start of a major change which could drastically affect the way we drive in the future?
As pressure mounts on Western governments to take decisive action against climate change, cars are coming under greater scrutiny than ever before. But with electric vehicles still years away from being accessible for all drivers, what other measures might the UK government introduce to reduce vehicle emissions and work towards meeting its ambitious environmental targets?
Here, we take a speculative look at ways in which the UK could cut driving emissions, exploring the schemes and initiatives currently in the pipeline, as well as those recently introduced by other countries.
1. More ‘Clean Air Zones’
From July 2020, all high-polluting vehicles will pay £8 to drive into Birmingham city centre as part of the new Clean Air Zone plan. It’s the first step towards removing all cars from the city centre by 2031, in a bid to improve air quality and reduce the number of pollution-related deaths in the city.
Birmingham isn’t the first city to introduce a Clean Air Zone, and nor will it be the last. London has operated a congestion charge for high-polluting vehicles since 2003, and four other cities across the UK are set to follow Birmingham’s lead over the next year: Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton.
The government mandated these five cities to introduce a Clean Air Zone because of recent air quality statistics, as well as growing concern over the number of premature deaths related to pollution. In Birmingham alone, it’s believed air pollution contributes to around 900 premature deaths a year.
And it isn’t just these five cities where the government is taking a tough new stance on air pollution. By 2021, it’s expected that the majority of major UK cities will have implemented a Clean Air Zone, including Manchester, Edinburgh and Liverpool.
What does this mean for drivers? Well, in Birmingham, the fees only apply to diesel vehicles manufactured before 2015 and petrol cars made before 2006, but this law may tighten in the future. So, if your car is outside this criteria, you won’t have to pay to drive into your local city – for now at least.
2. New Clean Speed Limits
Think speed limits are already too low? Well, they could get lower if the UK takes a leaf out of the Netherlands’ driving rulebook – where new speed limits have been enforced to tackle the air pollution crisis.
In November 2019, the Dutch government announced plans to cut the daytime speed limit on Dutch roads to 100km/h (62mph) in an effort to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide commuter traffic releases into the atmosphere. The new limits will take effect from 6am to 7pm, and will mean that the Netherlands now has the lowest speed limits in Europe.
The Netherlands is one of several European countries which has struggled to get a handle on its emissions targets in recent years, with several major infrastructure improvement projects put on hold simply because the country as a whole can’t afford to produce any more greenhouse gas emissions.
Studies show that reducing speed limits can have a positive impact on emission figures. Reducing speeds by as little as 10mph can make a considerable difference, and the UK has already introduced new limits on high-polluting roads in an effort to improve air quality in local areas.
Will the government follow the Netherlands and introduce a daytime speed limit cap? Who knows, but with the rollout of smart motorways continuing, such measures aren’t beyond the realms of possibility.
3. Scheduled ‘Car-Free’ Days
Can you imagine a town or city free from cars? No engine noise, no beeping, no waiting for the green man before you cross the road.
Well, this is the new reality in cities such as Paris, where new ‘car-free’ days have been introduced to cut emissions and improve air quality. Paris is one of several European cities taking a tough line on pollution, introducing several bans and initiatives over the last few years to tackle the ongoing issue of emissions and air toxicity.
Since 2016, Paris has imposed strict rules for drivers wishing to enter the city, including random restrictions based on odd/even registration plates, a congestion charge similar to that of London, and a blanket ban on older cars during the heatwave of summer 2019.
Now, the French capital has imposed a new ‘car-free’ day, with vehicles barred from the city on the first Sunday of every month. Even taxis and buses are restricted to speeds of just 20km/h (about 12mph) in the city, making the law one of the toughest ever enforced on drivers.
Paris’ approach to curbing emissions may have raised eyebrows in the past, but with cities such as Birmingham hoping to ban private cars by 2031, it might not be long before novel measures like those introduced in the French capital become the norm on UK roads.
4. Enforce Stricter Rules on Vehicle Maintenance
In 2018, the UK MOT test got tougher, with strict new guidelines in place for diesel emissions. Since then, thousands more cars have failed the MOT compared to previous years, with emissions standards being one of the key areas where vehicles have come up short.
But do the MOT changes go far enough in tackling the problem of high-polluting cars? And could more be done to ensure our cars are having the smallest possible impact on the environment?
From changing the air filter and oil regularly to using cleaning agents like Redex, there are lots of ways to reduce emissions. But just how many drivers carry out this type of maintenance on a regular basis?
If every driver maintained their car properly, everyday journeys would be all the greener for it. Many motorists are guilty of neglecting to maintain their car until a week before the annual MOT test, but if they kept on top of maintenance tasks throughout the year, fuel economy would improve, and emissions would decrease – a clear win-win for both drivers and the environment.
Simple changes to your driving and car maintenance habits can have a hugely positive impact, reducing emissions, improving performance and making your car cheaper and more efficient to run. Check out this guide on reducing driving emissions.
With all this in mind, could the government look to enforce new rules on how we maintain our cars? Placing greater responsibility on the shoulders of car owners could bring about substantial gains in the battle against air pollution and emissions, without the need for radical change or big investment.
So, there you have it, our thoughts on how the government could look to cut emissions and air pollution in the coming years. What’s your take on the climate crisis and what measures would you like to see introduced to help drivers reduce their emissions? Join the conversation over the Redex Club Facebook page.
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