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Could our reliance on company cars be costing lives?

  • Study suggests government prioritises road safety over pollution levels
  • Research indicates 50,000 deaths a year are caused by poor air quality
  • Are emissions from our cars the real danger on the road?

Written by James Dennison Published: 30 August 2016 Updated: 30 August 2016

Air pollution could be responsible for up to 30 times the number of deaths as road traffic collisions, yet the latter continues to take priority with government policymakers, a new study has suggested.

Research carried out by Dr Tim Chatterton and Professor Graham Parkhurst, from the Royal Geographical Society, found that UK transport planners are not taking the environmental and health impacts of cars sufficiently into account.

Thousands of deaths a year caused by pollution

Their study points to the fact that despite various efforts over the past twenty years to improve air quality, little progress has been made. Yet over the same period, road deaths have plummetted. Current estimates suggest that 50,000 deaths a year are caused by air pollution. This is in comparison to 1,732 road deaths in the year 2015.

Professor Parkhurst said: “Air pollution is perhaps the grossest manifestation of a general failure of UK transport planning to take the environmental impacts of transport choices sufficiently into account. Currently air pollution is a shared priority between Defra and DfT, but shared priority does not mean equal priority.”

Dr Chatterton said: “Air pollution-related morbidity and mortality are at ‘epidemic’ levels and, although less obvious, are more significant than road transport collisions as a cause of death and injury.

“Politicians at local and national levels must treat poor air quality as a public health priority, placing clear emphasis on the severity of the problem and the limitations of technological fixes.”

Merely encouraging alternative forms of transport is not enough

The study also outlines that reduced vehicle use is one of the only ways that is sure to bring down pollution levels and that emphasis must be placed on encouraging cycling and walking in particular. Yet any change must be led by a clear, strong governmental effort.

Dr Chatterton added: “The ‘nudge’ approach to behaviour change favoured by David Cameron’s governments will not be adequate to meet this challenge.

“Given recent events, we would like to see the government making a clear, strong effort to ‘take back control’ of the air pollution problem”.

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