In a bid to try to reduce dangerous air pollution, the Welsh Government has released plans to lower the speed limit of five different stretches of road to a maximum of 50mph, two of which are on the busy M4 motorway. This would be the first parts of any motorway in Britain with a fixed speed limit lower than 70 mph.

They hope that this move will reduce nitrogen dioxide levels on roads that currently exceed legal emissions limits and expect that lowering the speed limit will have almost immediate results on the amount of air pollution in these locations.

Clean Air Fund

The plans to reduce speed limits are part of the Welsh Government’s £20 million Clean Air Fund which seeks to lower the amount of air pollution in Wales and show the country as being a leader in innovative and effective clean air solutions.

This comes from the Welsh Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn, who stated on the 24th April that one of her key priorities is to reduce air pollution and that she is confident that the proposals they have in place will help them to achieve this goal and create cleaner air for both local communities and the environment.

In a recent study by the World Health Organisation, Port Talbot in Wales came top as having the worst air pollution in the UK. However, air quality in Wales has improved overall compared to previous decades, and Blythyn is hopeful that by taking further action to reduce air pollution from all possible angles, the Government can lower the risks that both the public and the environment are currently facing.

The Welsh Government admitted that they failed to suggest suitable ideas for reducing air pollution in the past, and this is why it has been pushed into the spotlight now.

The fund will run until 2021 and will also help to support local authorities to comply with nitrogen dioxide limits, plus a website will be launched which allows people to look at the air quality levels in their area in real-time.

This website will also feature data on current and forecasted air pollution levels, plus historical information and related health advice too. In addition to this, schools will be able to access educational games, tools and materials which they can use to teach children about air pollution, the dangers that it can bring, and they can help to reduce it.

Clean Air Zones have also been proposed which will be areas of the road which are out of bounds for older, more polluting cars, or charges them for entering these zones. Ministers are currently looking into whether these zones should be made mandatory for local authorities or if they should be voluntary, whereas in England Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton authorities have all been told that the need Clean Air Zones in place by 2019.

Will reducing the speed limit work?

It is proposed that the sections of road which will have their speed limit reduced are the M4 between 41 and 42 Port Talbot, the M4 at Newport, the A494 at Deeside, the A483 at Wrexham, and the A470 between Upper Boat and Pontypridd. This change will take place in June this year.

The Welsh Government believe that by reducing the speed of traffic on these stretches of road they could cut dangerous emissions by up to 18%, but not everyone feels that this will be the case.

For example, RAC’s Head of Roads Policy, Nicholas Lyes, is sceptical about the new speed limits although he supports the Clean Air Zones which have been suggested. He believes that because these roads often experience traffic jams that lowering the speed limit to 50mph is unlikely to make a difference as although it could help with the flow of traffic, jams are still likely to occur and these are one of the causes of pollution.

This means that nitrogen dioxide levels wouldn’t necessarily fall, and Lyes suggests that the Welsh Government take a look at the capacity of these roads to get a clearer understanding of what could be done differently.

How might this affect you?

If you use one of these five stretches of road, then you are likely to see the change in speed limit to 50mph by the end of June. It may improve the flow of traffic if you are used to sitting in jams during your journey, but it will also mean that your trip will take longer to complete.

These new 50mph speed limits will be mandatory so you must stick to them like you would any other speed limit while you are travelling on one of these roads. Be aware that its likely that when these measures come in, they will be supported by a range of mobile and fixed camera placements to ensure that people are adhering to the new 50 mph speed limits.

In some cases, the cameras may be difficult to spot, as a new generation of HADECS cameras being rolled out on smart motorways are cleverly obscured in various ways to catch drivers out when they enter these new speed restricted zones.

Do you think that lowering the speed limit will have a big impact on air pollution in Wales? Do you use one of the roads that will be affected? Let us know in the comments below.

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