Launching the campaign yesterday, Gavin Strang, the transport minister, urged motorists to "break the habit" and give up the car for a day.
"This government and Don't Choke Britain have the same aim: we want to see less pollution and less congestion on our roads. It's down to all of us to break the habit. Give up the car for a day - you might find it starts a new way of life," he said.
Both the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association cast doubt on the Government's campaign.
An AA official said the real problem was "older diesel vehicles such as buses and lorries which emit so many of the pollutants that cause most concern".
Motoring organisations have long been concerned that environmentalists have dominated transport thinking and aim to make a strong case for the car in the run-up to the publication of the Government's White Paper on transport next month.
Friends of the Earth produced figures yesterday claiming that since the beginning of the year air quality levels were being breached as often as once a week in some major cities.
"The true picture about pollution is more complicated," said Martin Maeso, the AA's head of research and environmental policy. "Our latest research shows that nearly 40 per cent of the pollution from particulates comes from 500,000 buses and lorries. Given these figures it seems odd to target the 23 million cars on the road."
Particulates - tiny deadly particles of dust - have been linked by ministers to the deaths of up to 24,000 people a year.
But the stance taken by the motoring organisations angered the lorry lobby. "You can't ask truckers to get out of their cabs. There is no alternative," said a spokesman for the Freight Transport Association.
"What are you going to do - ask a haulier to take 10 tonnes of baked beans on a bike?"Reuse content