pounds 2,000 penalty for dirty drivers

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Drivers in central London whose vehicles cause pollution face fines of up pounds 2,000 from today. Randeep Ramesh, Transport Correspondent, considers the latest attempt to curb the fumes choking our cities.

From today, Westminster council officers and police will be stopping and testing drivers whose cars are suspected of "exceeding the MoT emission limits". Glasgow is introducing a similar scheme.

The sweeping new powers come from amendments to the 1984 Road Traffic Act. Drivers of offending vehicles will have 28 days to pay the pounds 60 penalty and will be obliged to have the cause of the pollution rectified. Anyone who disputes the police analysis can take the case to court. If they do so, however, they risk incurring the pounds 2,000 fine.

"We are aiming to take a lead in cutting pollution," said Jonathan Lord, chair of Westminster City Council's environmental committee. "We are aiming to target the 20 per cent of vehicles that cause 80 per cent of the pollution." The money raised will be used to fund the roadside checks.

The new regulations give a number of authorities - which include Birmingham, Bristol, Middlesbrough and Swansea - the opportunity to set up and operate anti-pollution schemes.

The AA claimed the checks would fail to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible motorists.

"It is perfectly feasible for a car to have passed an MoT test and for the driver to be unaware that the catalyser had become faulty, as there are no in-car systems to flag up the state of a vehicle's emissions," a spokesman for the motoring organisation said.

The Government appears likely to focus on tackling the car culture's impact on high-risk groups such as children as well as acting against those most responsible for pollution.

Baroness Hayman, the roads minister, told a conference yesterday that "one in six car trips in the rush hour are parents taking their kids to school. We are in danger of producing a car dependent generation."

Experts agree. Dr Ian Roberts of Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, said the health of more than six million children was at risk because there was too much traffic on the roads.

Vehicle collisions with child pedestrians are the major cause of death for children aged one to 14. Youngsters are also suffering from "rising levels of obesity" as they walk and cycle less.

The Government wants to discourage children being taken to school by car.

So far, ministers have given cash to two local authorities in Surrey and Oxfordshire to promote public transport. Another six are awaiting ministers' decisions.

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