Scrapping older vehicles that fare worse on emission standards has a “negligible” effect on air quality, according to research by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) Foundation.
Analysis of MOT data on 22m vehicles, led by academics from a number of universities, showed that the amount of miles driven by a vehicle has more of an effect on pollution than certified per-kilometre emissions.
Moreover, newer vehicles tend to be driven far more than older ones, potentially offsetting the “savings” that come with newer engines. This, the report read, presents policymakers with a conundrum when trying to remove older vehicles from the road through scrappage schemes.
Additionally, the research looked at the financial burden of upgrading to cleaner car standards: lower-income areas tend to spend higher proportions of income on new vehicles, yet are responsible for lower emissions that elsewhere.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The message is unmistakable. Targeting a scrappage scheme at the owners of old diesel cars in the most polluted areas is not going to get us where we need to be. Scrappage might sound like a sensible quick fix, but the sad fact is that there is no easy solution to our air quality problems.
“This report confirms that those on the lowest incomes are likely to have the oldest cars but reveals that more often than not they will be petrol rather than diesel. This probably reflects the fact that diesels only make up about a third of the total UK vehicle fleet and many of them will have been bought relatively recently by people thinking they were doing the environmentally-friendly thing.”
Tim Chatterton, of the University of the West of England, Bristol, one of the authors, added: “It is time that UK air pollution policy stopped focusing solely on per-kilometre emissions from the vehicle fleet, and began to consider serious options for enabling less traffic on our urban roads. This would have benefits not just in terms of better air quality, but also in reducing noise, improving road safety and public space and quality of life more generally.”
In related news, the government has opened a consultation on how local authorities can tackle nitrogen dioxide emissions. The evidence gathered will be used to ” inform further development ” of the Clean Air Fund announced by Philip Hammond in the Autumn 2017 budget.