The Times, Phillip Pank (Transport Correspondent), 6 June 2014.
Ministers should consider offering financial incentives to force the dirtiest diesel cars off the roads and save some of the 29,000 people killed each year by dirty air, the RAC Foundation says.
It recommends tightening limits on particulate matter — particles that can cause serious illness — to bring them into line with World Health Organisation (WHO) limits, which are twice as stringent as those currently in place.
Tiny particles from diesel engines, brakes and tyres have been linked to asthma, lung cancer, heart conditions and diabetes. The government estimates that the health cost associated with dirty air is up to £19 billion a year, of which £10 billion is attributed to transport.
The WHO calculates that almost 30,000 people die prematurely each year in Britain as a result of particulate air pollution. Using the organisation’s threshold, 96 per cent of people living in towns and cities are exposed to dangerous levels of particulate air pollution.
The RAC Foundation says in its report, published today, that removing the finest particles from the air would have a bigger impact on life expectancy in England and Wales than eliminating all road deaths or passive smoking. It says consideration should be given to adopting the WHO guidelines.
It also calls on the government to launch a scrappage scheme offering financial incentives to motorists to trade in older diesel cars for cleaner vehicles. The last government introduced a scheme entitling buyers of new cars a £2,000 discount if they replaced vehicles that were at least ten years old.
The number of diesel cars has risen from 1.6 million in 1994 to ten million today — one in three cars — as motorists seek greater fuel efficiency and carmakers promote diesel vehicles with lower CO2 emissions. “This is a consequence of the focus on climate change,” the report says.
The report also claims that using vehicle excise duty and company car tax incentives to improve fuel efficiency has increased the number of diesel cars, which produce more harmful pollution than comparable petrol models.
European standards have helped to reduce emissions from new diesel cars but there is a lag as most cars remain on the road for more than a decade.
Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Many people believed that by buying diesels they would get better fuel consumption and help fight global warming through low CO2 emissions. But policy-makers missed the impact older diesel models in particular have on health in urban areas.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We have no current plans to introduce a scrappage scheme for older diesel vehicles.”