Motorway speed limits should be reduced to 50mph in some sections to reduce pollution, a health watchdog has warned.
New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) sets out a series changes that would need to be made to reduce the devastating effects of air pollution on Britons’ health.
Around 25,000 deaths every year in England alone – around 5% of all deaths – can at least partially be put down to air pollution, Nice warned.
As well as lowering the speed limit, Nice also want to see an end to speed bumps. Experts argue that, rather than encouraging a slower speed, drivers tend to accelerate and then decelerate towards the bumps – which causes higher emissions overall.
And ‘no-idling’ zones should be installed around the country’s schools, the draft guidance for England suggests, to stop parents from leaving their cars running during school drop-offs.
Prof Mark Baker, director for the Centre of Guidelines at Nice, said: ‘If the traffic is such that you are stopping and starting, decelerating and accelerating, then that increases emissions, pollution and fuel consumption.
‘In those circumstances, slowing everything down to 60mph or 50mph is the best approach – but not all the time. That’s why variable speed limits are far more sensible than blanket 50mph or 60mph (limits).
‘Variable speed limits are useful where at times the volume of traffic results in unhealthy driving conditions – which is stopping and starting. So M25 most of the time, M4 on a Sunday, M1 on a Friday evening.
‘Variable speed limits are justified on roads which are busy enough for traffic to have to break for no other reason than that (the road is) blocked.’
Dr Nigel Jenkins, Nice’s guideline committee expert, added that the variable speed limits would be put in place to ‘try and improve the flow of vehicles’ on the roads.
‘Having a more consistent flow of vehicles improves fuel efficiency as well as emissions from the vehicle, in effect reducing them,’ he said.
The draft guidance has been devised for local authority staff and is now out for consultation.
A government spokesman said: ‘This draft guidance doesn’t represent government policy, but we are firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions.’