I often wonder, and I know that I’m not the first, what’s going to happen when vehicles are clean? When their emissions output is low, they can no longer be the single biggest factor in air pollution? We know that by 2040, diesel and unleaded car sales will be outlawed, so where will the missing revenue come from?

Many of us suspect that energy prices will skyrocket, that charging your electric vehicle will go from a few pounds to tens of pounds (at the very least), but what else is there? What could possibly link outdated ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) powered cars with the cleaner, greener, alternatives?

What will be the common denominator between the two?

The answer of course, is brakes, tyres and road surface degradation.

Government air quality experts

According to the Government Air Quality Expert Group, particles from tyre use, brake wear and road surface wear “directly contribute to more than half of particle pollution from road transport”.

Ding ding ding … we have a winner.

While nobody is actually denying that applying your brakes to slow down causes brake dust, it should be pointed out that at this moment in time, there’s very little choice (unless you want to find out how long NHS waiting queues are) in using the brakes, and more importantly, the question needs to be asked just how ‘realistic’ (read: truthful) that figure is?

Michael Ellis, Transport Minister, has been quoted as saying: “We are engaging at an international level to identify how to measure these emissions, as well as aiming to develop standards to control them”. The emphasis in that paragraph is mine; How to measure these emissions.

Tyre technology

As anyone that saw the British Grand Prix at the weekend can tell you, tyre technology, specifically tyre compounds, can be the difference between raising the laurels, or finding a doughnut with no jam. With current technology, the only way to reduce tyre particles is to reduce the wear rate of the tyre, which means harder compounds, harsher ride quality and less grip. Not exactly ideal in a country where (on average) it rains for 156.2 days of the year.

Yes, there are some manufacturers working on alternative tyres, mainly making them airless, but they’re years away from production, and they still may produce particles as part of their natural wear / grip cycle.

It’s a similar story for brakes – reducing particle pollution (with today’s accepted technology and designs) would amount to making the brake pads from a harder compound, which would then result in the need for a more wear-resistant disk, which of course reduces braking efficiency, along with costing the manufacturers millions in development.

Accepted level

It would seem as though all the ‘government experts’ are singularly focussed on one thing, in this case, air pollution caused by cars. It’s quite easy to introduce radical new plans to win approval from Europe, to show that we’re doing more than paying lip service to air pollution targets, but the reality is that the expert groups need to widen their horizons and knowledge base; how many of the Government Air Quality Expert Group are automotive engineers?

Banning cars from a city centre is the perfect example – yes without doubt, it will lower air pollution within that targeted area, but it will also have a financial cost, potentially kill-off any trade within that city, and lead to more people becoming jobless (and simply shift the air pollution problem somewhere else).

Radically re-engineering brakes & tyres will have a similar effect – development costs will be passed on to the customer, there could be a potential safety implication, and any benefits will be marginal in the extreme. There should be more of an understanding between the need for road transportation versus the need for cleaning up our cities, it’s a balancing act that so far, is heavily weighted in the one direction.

Of course, technology and manufacturing processes change and develop over time, but with government officials calling for an ‘urgent review’ into the materials and processes, we could just be heading toward another panicked decision without any forethought to the wider picture.

Just how far can these government experts take the ‘car = pollution’ argument? I’ve said for a long time that the next step to easy money for them is a green tax on speeding; along with a fine, there will be a tariff added for the extra emissions caused by going over the accepted speed limit … they’ve got to keep that revenue generation coming from somewhere.

What do you think to this latest air pollution argument? Do you feel that the government are just finding new ways to generate income? Let us know in the comments.
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