Clean air zones and how they can affect motorists

With the success of London's Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), we take a look at how they can affect motorists with more councils looking to join the scheme.

Motoring advice

11 January 2022

In February 2003, London introduced its Congestion Charge Zone for the city centre. The idea behind it was to ease congestion and car emissions by charging vehicles £10 - and more recently £15 - for driving in the area.

It was later expanded by introducing its Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in April 2019. This meant, in addition to the daily £15 congestion charge, a further £12.50 charge for vehicles not complying with European standards would be applied.

London's ULEZ rules have since inspired many cities across the UK to develop their own Clean Air Zones. From Birmingham to Bath and from York to Portsmouth, many cities have followed suit with even more in the pipeline.

But, what does all this mean? Is my car ULEZ compliant? What cities are introducing an emissions charge? Here are a few ways in which Clean Air Zones (CAZ) can affect motorists and how to get ready for future changes.

What are Clean Air Zones?

As mentioned above, they are targeted areas with measures to ease congestion and car emissions, with an overarching goal of improving air quality. They're looking to do this by reducing roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, which is also in line with the government's air quality plan.

So, to achieve this, local authorities have placed restrictions on travel throughout certain areas meaning when driving in a Clean Air Zone, vehicles shouldn't exceed set emission standards. If they do, the drivers will be charged a fee, which is also set by local authorities. There are a few different types of Clean Air Zones targeting different vehicles, and they may be pretty confusing to the average driver. But, the differences between the zones are categorised into Class A, B, C, and D.

Class D covers the more common types of vehicles, so this is likely the class you'll need to take note of. It includes buses, taxis, vans, minibuses, cars, and motorbikes. However, this can vary between local authorities. Class A tends to be more lenient and only covers buses, taxis, and private hire vehicles.

These zones have been created to help combat climate change and improve the community's health. Reducing air pollution has a lot of benefits – it's generally better for the environment and can help people with breathing conditions. So, it really is better for all when motorists commit to assisting local authorities by checking Clean Air Zone rules in these areas.

Is my car Ultra Low Emission Zone compliant (ULEZ)?

To drive in a Clean Air Zone, your car must be compliant and meet the European emission standards. We know that this may not be something that comes up in everyday conversation, so we've detailed them below.

Introduced in 1993, standards were set to measure exhaust emissions and the environmental impact of new vehicles. They range in title from Euro 1 to the newly anticipated Euro 7.

Typically, a car must meet the standard of Euro 6 for diesel vehicles, or Euro 4 for petrol. However, it's always recommended to check your local authorities ruling. You can find your vehicle's standard in your logbook or from the manufacturer. You'll also be able to find ULEZ car checkers online, too.

If it turns out your car doesn't meet the minimum emission standard, you could potentially face charges. These also vary from council to council, ranging between £8 and £12.50, and not paying this charge could result in a penalty of over £100.

To avoid this possibility, check your car emission standard – it doesn't take long and could save you some hassle. If it turns out your car isn't compliant, you could consider trading it in for a more environmentally friendly vehicle.

Is a Clean Air Zone coming to my city?

Ten major cities across the UK are due to introduce a clean air zone in their borders.

These cities and their expected roll-out dates are:

  • Bradford – January 2022
  • Oxford – February 2022
  • Aberdeen – May 2022
  • Dundee – May 2022
  • Edinburgh – May 2022
  • Manchester – May 2022
  • Bristol – June 2022
  • Glasgow – June 2022
  • Newcastle – July 2022
  • Sheffield – Late 2022

However, these proposed dates aren't set in stone. Local authorities will allow a 'grace' period which means while the Clean Air Zones come into effect, motorists won't face any charges for the first year.

Bristol city centre evening rush hour traffic

What can I do to lower my emissions?

To prepare for the arrival of Clean Air Zones, becoming more environmentally friendly is a smart move to make. Thankfully, there are several ways to achieve this.

Consider replacing your car with an electric or hybrid model. Not only do these cars have lower emissions, but they have high fuel efficiency too.

While buying a new car is a big financial commitment to make, it could benefit you in the long run. Low emission vehicles are generally in low insurance groups, resulting in cheaper car insurance costs. This not only benefits you but the environment, too.

Buying a new, environmentally friendly car may be an easy solution for some. However, not everyone can afford this luxury. So, another way to lower emissions is to take public transport when possible. By taking the bus, train, or cycling to work, you'll be doing your part to lower emissions.

Happy environment, happy drivers

With more and more cities developing clean air zones, it makes sense to be prepared. Understanding what CAZ and ULEZ expect from you is the key to avoiding being charged.

Before heading out, research CAZ or ULEZ maps for your local authority and the times they're in operation. Plus, check what European emission standard your car is to avoid charges.

If your car isn't compliant with ULEZ rules, you can always use public transport instead. Or, this could be an excellent opportunity to upgrade your car to an environmentally friendly model. While this is a significant commitment, it could save you money down the road. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us about our car insurance policies for more information.