Dirty drivers face spot fines of pounds 60

Next year, motorists with filthy exhausts will face fixed-penalty fines of pounds 60 in seven cities. But Nicholas Schoon, Environment Correspond ent, says only a nationwide crackdown would be really effective.
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The Independent Online
One-tenth of vehicles cause half of all the air pollution from traffic, it has been estimated. And traffic fumes are the main reason why air-quality standards are regularly breached. That is why government has long been promising to crack down on the filthy minority of older, badly maintained vehicles producing exhaust fumes which fail to meet the legal standard.

Yesterday, ministers announced that from early next year seven local councils would be allowed to stop vehicles and issue fixed-penalty fines for those that failed emission tests. Accompanied by a police officer, trained smog-busting officials will carry out roadside tests.

The councils will not have to go to the expense of taking offenders to court - unless they refuse to pay. And the money raised from fines will go towards the cost of the staff and testing equipment needed to run the schemes. Even having an engine running unnecessarily while parked will become an instantly punishable offence. If a driver of any car, however clean its exhaust, refuses to turn off an engine when reasonably asked to do so, he or she will be ordered to pay pounds 20.

The scheme will by run for a year by the city councils of Birmingham, Glasgow, Bristol, Swansea, Middlesbrough, Canterbury and Westminster in London, who have all volunteered for a pilot project. If it is a success, all councils will be encouraged to join.

The pounds 60 fine for a dirty exhaust - rising to pounds 90 if still unpaid after a month - compares with a minimum speeding fine of pounds 40. Diesel vehicles will be checked for the amount of soot in their fumes, while petrol engines will be tested for concentrations of key pollutants such as carbon monoxide. The tests will be the same as those carried out during the annual MoT road-worthiness check.

The Government insists that only uniformed police officers can actually stop vehicles for the checks, but police forces complain that they are too overstretched to take on new traffic responsibilities. However, the Department of the Environment and Transport said that some of the money raised by the fines could be used to finance the police presence.

To date, most roadside checks on exhausts have been carried out by the Government's own vehicle inspectorate. The failure rate for cars is one in twenty; that for buses, heavy lorries and vans was lower but taxis were considerably dirtier - nearly one in ten did not meet the legal standard.

Until now, the chances of any driver being stopped for an emissions check have been extremely low. The schemes will be judged a success if they boost the number of checks and cut the number of failures in their localities. But it seems likely that only once checks are applied in towns and cities nationwide will the problem of the dirty minority be tackled and gains in air quality won.